Friday, January 29, 2016

Gerrymander: The Ultimate Despicable Device!

In my post of November 24,2015, I enumerated the "despicable devices" by which the enemies of democracy are trying to disenfranchise millions of potential Democratic voters.  As I noted, 49 states introduced 295 transparently partisan measures between 2011 and 2014, just in time for the mid-term elections. But what recourse do they have if the surviving  Democratic voters still manage to elect a sizeable number of Congressmen and state legislators? To deal with such a contingency, they have resurrected one of the most time-tested and pernicious "dirty tricks" in their arsenal--the  Gerrymander.     
 
That derogatory appellation was coined in 1812 by the Federalist editor of the Boston Gazette, responding to the outrageous redistricting map drawn by the Jeffersonian Republican legislators and signed off on by Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. Because the configuration on the map seemed to him to resemble a salamander, he dubbed it the "Gerry-mander." The stigma has, ever since, been applied to any blatant attempt to "to establish a political advantage for any party or group  by manipulating boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts." Over last two centuries it has been frequently been utilized as a potent weapon in political warfare. In antebellum Southern states, it was wielded to buttress the overrepresentation of the "Black Belt" counties at the expense of the "Piedmont." As a result, it played critical role in the decision for secession in several jurisdictions. During the Reconstruction Era, it facilitated the disenfranchisement of Freedmen, helping to destroy the accomplishments of the first Civil Rights Era by emasculating the 14th and 15th Amendments. Prior to the Second Civil Rights Era, according to Douglas Smith in On Democracy's Doorstep, malapportionment  served as "a cornerstone of white supremacy, ensuring the overrepresentation of the most ardent segregationists, and thus further delaying the realization the realization of civil and voting rights for African Americans." Thanks to Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, legislative districts have to be roughly equal in population. Even so, thanks to Shelby v. Holder, the doctrine of "one person, one vote" has been thoroughly undermined, thus negating or marginalizing the power of African Americans and other minorities.

Why has Gerrymandering had such a continuous history? According to analyst Robert Draper, it's  "because the U.S. is the only democracy in the world where politicians have an active role in creating voting districts." As if that weren't reason enough, the Republican State Leadership Committee, founded in 2006, has spent up to $40 million a year working to elect conservative Republicans. During the 2012 election cycle, it focused its efforts on state legislative races in an attempt to give them control of the redistricting process following the 2010 census. Karl Rove has admitted that "Republican strategies are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning those states would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 150 congressional seats." The RSLC is disguised as a 527 political organization, heavily backed by big business. The Chamber of Commerce has donated about $7.2 million over six years, while American Justice Partnership, which lobbies for legislation limiting liability awards and reducing "abusive lawsuits," has contributed nearly $2 million since 2006. Other top donors are Wal Mart, Pfizer, Devon Energy, AT&T, and Reynolds American Tobacco. Its chairman is Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee. In 2010, RSLC partnered with American Crossroads, American Action Forum, and resurgent Republicans.

Together, these cabals engineered "The Great Gerrymander of 2012." Even though the Democrats polled i.4 million more votes for the House, the Republicans won control, 234 to 201. Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side every time. In 2013, the RSLC issued a progress report on "Redmap," its $30 million multiyear plan to influence redistricting, which tilts the playing field in two stages: 1) take over state legislatures prior to the decennial census and 2) then redraw legislative and congressional districts to lock in long-term partisan advantage. Whatever else this process is, it is clearly NOT  democratic. In fact it is blatantly anti-democratic. One Virginia lawmaker has even proposed Gerrymandering the
presidential vote by allocating electoral votes by congressional district. Such a split would have elected Romney in 2012, despite the fact that he received five million fewer votes.    

Using the statistical tools of his profession, neuroscientist Sam Wang has "developed approaches to  detect such shenanigans by looking only at election returns." He starts with "the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats." In 2012, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin "failed to clear even this low bar." In North Carolina, the House vote was 51 percent Democratic so the seats should have been split 7 Democrats to 6 Republicans. Its redistricting scheme produced only 4 Democrats and 7 Republicans! "If these districts had been fairly drawn," he charges, "this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur. " he then picked combinations of districts that added up to the same statewide total, so that he could determine "what would have happened if a state had districts that were typical of the rest of the nation." Using his "most discrepancy criterion," he found 10 states "out of whack": the five mentioned above plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Texas. Arizona had been redistricted by a combination of Republicans and federal court efforts, and Illinois by Democrats. The other 7 were designed by Republican legislators. "Both sides do it," he concluded, "but one side does it more often." In California, 62 percent of the vote went to Democrats, while the mock delegation of 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans "exactly matched the newly elected delegation." WHY? BECAUSE THE VOTERS "TOOK REDISTRCTING OUT OF THE LEGISLATORS' HANDS BY CREATING THE CALIFORNIA CITIZENS REDISTRICTING COMMISSION!! 

The core strategy of gerrymandering is jamming voters likely to favor your opponents into a few "throwaway" districts, where the other side is allowed to win lopsided victories. That is called "packing." They then arrange other boundaries where they can eke out narrow victories. That is known as "cracking." Although legislators use highly sophisticated software, "free software from Dave's Redistricting Apps lets you do it from your couch." Political analysts have identified other tactics, such as cramming voters into crowded urban districts, "but in 2012 the net effect of intentional gerrymandering was far larger than any one factor."

Wang suggests three different possible outcomes. 1) Democrats have to win the popular vote by 7 percentage points, the way that districts are presently constituted, to take control of the House.
2) Replacing his 8 partisan districts with mock delegations derived from his calculations would result in 215 Democrats and 220 Republicans, "give or take a few." 3) In the 7 states where Republican legislatures "gamed" the results, 16.7 million Republican and 16.4 Democratic votes produced 73
Republican congressmen and 34 Democratic ones. "Given the average percentage that it takes to elect a Representative, that combination would require only 14.7 million Democratic votes." Put another way,  1.7 votes were packed into Democratic districts and effectively wasted." Compared to the national total of House votes--121 million--the difference is huge--maybe even controlling. In Illinois,  Democrats did the converse, wasting about 70,000 Republican votes. "In both cases," Wang estimates, "the number of wasted votes dwarfs the likely effect of either Voter ID laws (which the Democrats fight against) or "voter fraud" (the Republicans' bête noire.)

Wang proposes two plans to preserve majority rule and minority representation: 1) Nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states and 2) "Adopt a robust standard for partisan gerrymandering." The advent of inexpensive computing and free software "has placed the tools for fighting politicians who draw absurd districts into the hands of citizens like you and me." Republicans, especially, facing demographic and ideological changes in the electorate, use redistricting to cling to power. It is up to us "to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all; our House."

While Wamg considers the Texas redistricting to be a model, the process was quickly challenged by the "Project On Fair Representation, the same ersatz organization that sponsored Shelby County v. Holder. It contends, in Evenwel v. Abbott, that boundary lines should be drawn on the number of eligible voters, instead of on Census data, which, of course, counts every resident of a state. That would eliminate children, documented and undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and other non-voters. Although a three-judge federal panel dismissed their argument as one based on "a theory never before accepted by the Supreme Court or any circuit court," SCOTUS agreed to hear it on a 5-4 vote. If it prevails, according to Ari Berman, "electoral districts would become older, whiter, " more rural, and more conservative." In short, more Republican. Of the 38 congressional districts where more than 40% of residents are eligible to vote, for example, 32 are represented by Democrats in such cities as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Chicago.

The Evenwel , as Berman clearly states, "is an attempt to further weaken the VRA by limiting representation for the very communities most harmed by the Shelby County decision, in particular Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans."  The vice-president for litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund charges that "their persistence in bringing this litigation  is rooted in the goal of counteracting the gains that we have won under the VRA." If the plaintiffs' argument carries the day, ""a staggering 55% of Latinos --those under 18 or non-citizens--won't be counted, as well as 45% of Asian Americans and 30% of African Americans. The associate counsel at LatinoJustice  adds that 'it would signal a major retreat from the post-Civil War principle that all people should be fully counted as equal members of society under equal protection." 

The court will render its decision in June. The portents so not look auspicious>                    
                                                            
 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Supercharging the National Voter Registration Act: Advocate "iVote"

The Republican strategy to disenfranchise millions of potentially Democratic voters on fallacious and contrived charges of "voter fraud" is threatening to destroy our democratic system of government. (See, for example, my posts of November 26, 2012, June 23, 2014, and August 26, 2014, as well as Ari Berman, Give Us The Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights In America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.)  Their current devices are more subtle and sophisticated than the now unconstitutional poll tax and literacy test, but their purpose is just as nefarious.Their scope is far more sweeping, since their targeted victims include "the coalition of the ascendant"--young people, blacks, Hispanics, women, the chronic homeless and underemployed, and poor people in general. These despicable devices include requiring proof of citizenship in order to register, shutting down voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, disfranchising ex-felons, purging the voter rolls, and mandating government-issued photo IDs at the polling place. Between 2011 and 2015, forty-nine states introduced 295 separate voting  restriction laws. NAACP president Benjamin Jealous has called these collective efforts "the greatest attacks on voting rights since segregation." Referencing the onslaught that demolished the substantial gains of Reconstruction, eminent historian Eric Foner calls today's conspiracy "the Second Redemption."

Prior to June 25, 2013, nearly all of these ruses were successfully challenged by the Justice Department or the Judiciary as blatant attempts to circumvent the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, especially Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices, as well as Section  4b, which contains the coverage formula to determine which jurisdictions are subjected to  preclearance, because of their histories of blatant voting rights discrimination. Based upon mountains of irrefutable evidence, most of these jurisdictions were located in the Deep South. These provisions were upheld or extended--with considerable bipartisan support-- in 1966, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1980, 1982, and 1999. In 2006, Congress reauthorized Section 5 for an additional 25 years, but kept the coverage formula from 1975. Of course, that was before Barach Obama was elected president and the Republican Party was taken over by "right wing nuts." At that point, in Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy. and Thomas) struck down Section 4 (b), on the spurious grounds that the preclearance requirement was based upon 1975 data that "have no logical relationship to the present day." The 15th Amendment "is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future." The majority opinion made no direct reference to the constitutionality of  Section 5,  but since its preclearance requirement applies only to jurisdictions covered by section 4b, it becomes "inoperable unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula." The dissenting minority (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) objected that the conditions of 1975 still prevail in those jurisdictions, that any improvements were due to the Act itself, and that "throwing out preclearance when it has worked and continues to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

The Shelby County decision not only conferred legitimacy upon the "despicable devices" enumerated  above, but also motivated other Republican-dominated state legislatures to enact a flood of similar laws in time for the 2014 election cycle. The only recourse left those who wanted to protect the voting rights of all U.S. citizens was to press for court-ordered "stays" or injunctions that side-tracked some of the worst examples. Only those judicial orders prevented the 2014 elections from becoming even bigger travesties. Since the time limits on most of these "stays" are expiring, the "flood gates" holding back their implementation will be wide-open for 2016.

In a letter to the New York Times last August, President Obama proclaimed that "our state legislatures must make it easier--not harder--for more Americans to have their voices heard." Pete Giangreco, a top direct mail and media consultant for both of Obama's presidential campaigns, has charged that Republicans oppose automatic registration because they want to discourage Democratic-leaning citizens. "They don't want people to vote," he charges, "they've gotten very, very good at using technicalities at disfranchising individuals--young, immobile, poor, people of color. And those are people that tend to vote Democrat." Moreover, Geongreco adds, motor vehicle departments already prevent non-citizens from registering to vote by obtaining citizenship information from government databases. He referred to a recent study in the journal Policy Analysis, which found up to four million requests on Google for voter registration information submitted by individuals
whose deadlines have already expired. If automatic registration were enacted, Giangreco argues, "We win two ways. We think more turnout is better for democracy in general--and Democrats in particular."          

Inundated by the plethora of restrictive measures enacted by a bewildering variety of state legislatures, a group of former aides to Presidents Obama and Clinton are pledging to spend up to $10 million to make voter registration automatic, whenever someone acquires a driver's license. Tired of playing defense, they aim to go on offence. Their strategy is designed to "supercharge" the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, popularly dubbed the "motor voter act," which requires states to offer people the option of registering to vote when they apply for driver's license or other identification card. The new law would confer voter registration automatic, unless the would-be driver objects. The group, calling themselves "iVote", is led by Jeremy Bird, who ran Obama's voter turnout effort in 2012. It claims that such laws would energize millions of first-time voters who have, for whatever reason, failed to register even when they were offered the opportunity by their respective Divisions of Motor Vehicles. Many of these new voters, according to Bird, "would be young, poor, or minorities--groups that tend overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates: I do think it can be a complete game-changer. It would definitely counter what we see as a very organized and well-funded effort by the Republican Party to chip way at voting rights." With both houses of Congress in Republican hands, the push for automatic voter registration has to take place in the states.The major obstacle is that Republicans control 30 of the 50 state legislatures and 32 of the governorships, and have ruthlessly gerrymandered several electoral districts. <More on that travesty in my next post: the pending case of Evenwell v. Abbott .>

 Typical of those who oppose automatic registration is Kris W. Kobach, Republican secretary of state in Kansas, and a leading advocate of stricter voting laws, who contends that "people who chose not to register (under the existing voluntary "motor voter" law) were clearly not interested in voting. The assumption that by making what is already easy automatic that will somehow bring people to the polls is just erroneous. I just think it is a bad idea. Its not going to increase participation rates." <If that is actually true, then why bother to prevent their enactment? If he is right, wouldn't the outcome prove--once and for all--that millions of Americans "were clearly not interested in voting"?>  An advocate of "proof of citizenship" requirements, Kobach warns that "you're going to end up with aliens on the voting rolls. Its inevitable that an automatic registration system would result in many of them getting on." Considering that the penalty for election fraud is automatic and permanent deportation, why would aliens even consider such a reckless course? 

DESPITE THESE CLEVERY CONSTRUCTED ROADBLOCKS, AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRSTION MEASURES HAVE ALREADY BEEN ENACTED IN OREGON AND CALIFORNIA, AND ARE PENDING IN A TOTAL OF 17 STATES, INCLUDING OHIO, COLORADO, FLORIDA, AND NEVADA.                      

                                                                    JDB

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Demise of Slavery and the Rise of Racism

"Freedom's arrival was not the work of a moment; it was a process, rather than an occasion." That is the organizing thesis of The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States by Ira Berlin, the premier historian of American slavery world. Seldom has anyone captured the essence of so vital and complex a phenomenon in such a cohesive manner. In 211 riveting pages, he "connects the arrival of freedom with the post-emancipation standing of former slaves, hence the debate over citizenship and its attributes, among them race, as well as with the confrontation over property-in-man that made some people rich. At every turn, the coincidence between blackness and slavery, was reconstituted in the creation of a new relationship. Emancipation, in short, was a critical moment in the history of racialization---and it, too, was a long process."

Some historians have interpreted emancipation as a continuous linear progression toward freedom, while others have presented slavery and anti-slavery as parallel trajectories in which "emancipation's road was long and bumpy," its outcome uncertain. In Berlin's calculus, "it can best be revealed by examining the elements--four in number--that shaped the long struggle for universal freedom. Although played out against the ever-changing circumstances of American life, these four omnipresent constituents of emancipation's long history provide the essentials for understanding the arrival of universal freedom." First and foremost was "the resolute commitment of a few men and women--most of them black slaves, along with former slaves and the descendants of slaves--to end slavery and create a slaveless world."  Second was "the issue of black people in freedom, and therefore the question of citizenship and its attributes. If black people were not to be slaves, what exactly would they be?" Third, "the challenge to racial slavery necessarily evoked the question of racial freedom, and so the matter of race and the relationship between whites and blacks emerged simultaneously with any discussion of emancipation." Finally, "and most inescapably, emancipation was a violent process, for undoing the violence of enslavement required just as much brutality as the creation of chattel bondage, if not more." 

Although insisting upon "the primacy of black people" in the fight, Berlin argues that his focus "in no way denies the principled commitment, extraordinary courage, and deep sacrifice of others....in which can rightly be seen as the first interracial social movement." But neither does that reality "minimize the fact that the vast majority of black and white Americans lived in different worlds, which themselves had developed from slavery and from the allied structures of white supremacy." White abolitionists focused "on the societal damage slavery wrought as it perverted the work ethic, corrupted Christianity, distorted democracy, and twisted the most basic human relations," while blacks emphasized "the slaves' suffering, the physical and psychological abuse they endured, and the multiple ways slavery denied men and women a normal life. most especially a familial life." Nor does he deny that "most slaves grudgingly accepted--and sometimes welcomed--improvements in their lives in lieu of the risks entailed in reaching for complete freedom." Even so, most demonstrated "their unalloyed opposition to chattel slavery at the first opportunity." Freed slaves also did their utmost in behavior, dress, and speech to assure whites that they stood apart from slaves, but when the crisis came, "no other Americans pressed harder than free blacks for the opportunity to fight the slaveholding enemy, despite risks of enslavement and execution." Most realized that free blacks could never hope to be seen as equals so long as the masses were still enslaved.

In Berlin's rendering, the "long emancipation" began during the chaos of the American Revolutionary War, when thousands of slaves were able to "free" themselves, at least temporarily.
Their bold actions were so disruptive that most of the newly emerging states were forced to deal with the future of slavery as they drafted their founding constitutions. In every state north of the Carolinas, their deliberations culminated in  a glacially slow process known as "post-nati-emancipation," whereby the children born to enslaved women would be free after a specified date." <post nati is Latin for "born after"> The process varied from state to state, but it was generally so "glacial" that slaves were still residing in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia on the eve of the Civil War. Nowhere, however, were they accepted as "equals."

More than any other people, slaves and free blacks internalized and personalized the words "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." Those ideals were especially adopted by those at the bottom of society, none more enthusiastically than the nearly one million enslaved Africans and African-Americans, and the small, but growing, free black population. For some, it only reinforced the assurances of spiritual equality offered by religious radicals, who found a spark of divinity in every soul, and by evangelical Christians who preached that all are equal in God's eyes. For many, perhaps most, who knew something of the world and had observed their "masters" without the trappings of superiority, Jefferson/s notion was only common sense. It provided an antidote to the allegations of inferiority that weighed heavily upon them.

Berlin is quick to point out that others shared this egalitarian persuasion: Whether their beliefs emerged from the natural rights philosophy of the Enlightenment, from the theology of radical Protestant sectarians or from the emerging sensitivity to the commonalities of human nature, the confluence of egalitarian ideas and revolutionary experiences produced a heady mixture that the American people adopted as their first principle. As the Declaration became the touchstone of American nationality, men and women --especially those confined to the margins of American society such as religious dissenters, laboring people, women of all ranks, and, of course, enslaved and free people of color--employed Jefferson's self-evident truth to fulfill the nation's promise. While the power of the egalitarian ideal waxed and waned over the next century--indeed over the entire course of American history--it had a particularly powerful resonance among black Americans. 

But post-nati emancipation generated a counter-revolution. It was manifested most glaringly in the federal Constitution of 1787: the three/fifths clause, the continued importation of slaves until 1807, and the agreement to return "fugitives from justice" to their states of origin. The eventual prohibition of importation in 1807 guaranteed that slavery would henceforth be perpetuated almost solely by "natural increase"---a situation that most enslavers enthusiastically embraced. Whites in the "free states" obligingly acquiesced in the admission of several new slave states, but their growing resentment boiled over when Missouri--the first territory to emerge out of the Louisiana Purchase and the first west of the Mississippi River--applied for admission to the Union as a slave state. The vitriolic disputes that ensued---which came to be known as the Missouri Debates--"lasted through two congressional sessions and shook the Republic to its very essence, eventually setting the antislavery movement on a new path." The furor "touched on every aspect of the question of slavery and race revealing the full range of white sentiment on both sides." In the end, though, "the divisions within the Northern ranks contrasted sharply with the unity of Southern representatives--slavery and white supremacy carried the day." The resulting Missouri Compromise drew an imaginary line through the entire Louisiana Territory, allowing slavery to expand south of 36 degrees, 30 minutes of north latitude. The antislavery movement" once again faded from national politics and returned to the African churches, mutual aid societies. and civic associations that had emerged with the post-revolutionary growth of black freedom."

As blacks took control of the antislavery movement, it  assumed a new form: "less deferential, less gradualist, and more direct, more strident, more confrontational--in a word more militant." Everywhere, "the movement to abolish slavery was joined to the movement for racial equality." Nowhere were the differences between black and white opponents of slavery more starkly revealed than in the question of colonization, which was institutionalized in the American  Colonization Society in 1816. As early as the 1820s, its founders, who included mostly Jeffersonians, alienated black people. They disparaged them and "wanted only to purge the nation of free blacks." At the same time, Denmark Vesey and David Walker "came to epitomize, though hardly typify, the new style of antislavery activism." The former was a slave who had purchased his own freedom. He was accused of organizing a wide-ranging conspiracy to overthrow slavery in Charleston, and was tried, convicted, and executed as an insurrectionist. His notoriety, however, "made him an exemplar of antislavery activism," especially among a younger generation who were facing removal to the territories acquired by the annexation of Texas and victory in the Mexican War.

Walker was a free black born in North Carolina, who was probably inspired by Vesey's martyrdom and migrated to Boston. There he published his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which energized "the largely self-taught intellectual class, where notions of evangelical Protestantism mixed with ideals of classical republicanism." Although he chided blacks for their timidity, he reserved his most vitriolic criticism for whites--especially Jefferson--for their presumption of white supremacy.
The Appeal "captured the rage of an enslaved people and became an underground classic within the black community." While white opponents of slavery "dithered over colonization, the new generation of African-Americans--urged on by Walker--denounced colonization and demanded a direct confrontation with the slaveholding enemy." They also motivated a new generation of white abolitionists, led by William Lloyd Garrison, who espoused racial equality and called for an immediate end to slavery. White abolitionists were mobbed, beaten, and, at least in one case, murdered. Garrison was nearly lynched on the streets of Boston. Kidnapping "became a growth industry," that "sent black men and women, often free or having been promised freedom, to a lifetime of labor on the plantations of the Deep South." With increasing frequency, free blacks directly confronted aspiring kidnappers and the authorities who aided them." The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter," asserted Frederick Douglass, "is to make a half dozen or more dead kidnappers ".
                                              
While the great majority of northern whites obviously did not share the militancy of the abolitionists, they grew increasingly hostile toward the expansion of slavery. Even though those in the free states rejoiced in the addition of California and Oregon, they refused to regard the annexation of Texas and the Mexican Cession as an adequate quid pro quo. Their major objection to the Compromise of 1850 quickly became the Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated the return of runaway slaves, and commissioned U.S. marshals to pursue and capture them in the free states, subject only to permission from the courts. That was the spark that ignited the explosion of kidnapping, false imprisonment, pitched street battles, court histrionics, and widespread mayhem that ensued, both in cities and on the frontier. "Distinguishing many of these occasions,"was the presence of black men in arms, as the vigilance committees transformed themselves into militias." The "attempted and successful renditions of fugitive slaves became signature events of the decade as much as did the border wars in Kansas, the caning of Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor, and John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry." The Dred Scott decision opened the entire country--including the North and its territories--to slavery and barred people of African descent from membership in the larger community...threatened the rights of white people, degrading their labor by identifying it with that of black people and equality as the central tenet of American nationality."

According to Berlin, "the Civil War changed nothing and everything. Black men and women, slave and free, remained in the vanguard of the movement for universal freedom, demanding immediate emancipation." Freedom came for most slaves "through the force of arms. The mobilization of warring armies that transformed the war for union into a war for freedom ratcheted up the level of violence," as slavery came apart in pieces." Within a month, Congress prohibited Union soldiers from returning fugitive slaves to their masters, and Lincoln freed slaves in the District of Columbia. From the beginning of the war, "the strongest advocates of universal freedom were the slaves themselves." They "risked all for freedom," and "forced federal soldiers to recognize their importance to the Union's cause." Free blacks and white abolitionists dismissed the official Republican doctrine that slavery should be respected and given constitutional protection where it existed. Only the slaves "had both the commitment and the opportunity to initiate a direct assault on slavery." Hundreds of thousands "would work for the Union, and more than 135,000 slave men would become Union soldiers." The actions of slaves made it "possible and necessary for citizens, legislators, military officers, and the president to take action on the matter of emancipation." Nothing more clearly marked the transformation of the war for union into a war for freedom than "the appearance of black men in blue uniforms." That was so even though "the federal government violated virtually every such promise, and in so doing raised critical questions about the meaning of "real freedom." It was a stark reminder "that racial prejudice pervaded Northern as well as Southern society."         

How, exactly, did the eventual triumph of The Long Emancipation help generate the pervasive racism that has poisoned our society and culture ever since? The answer, Berlin demonstrates conclusively, is that African-Americans--slave and free--struggled to obtain both "freedom" and "equality," while even the most sincere and dedicated white abolitionist advocated for "freedom"---in and of itself--as the ultimate prize. Regardless of location or status, blacks and whites "lived in different worlds." Material differences in wealth that spawned differences in education and aspirations "elevated whites, imbuing them with a sense that they were the black's defenders, protectors, and benefactors, but not as colleagues and comrades. Such condescension manifested itself in the lament that all-too-many white opponents of slavery "love the colored man at a distance." Their differences made it difficult for even  black and white abolitionists "to see one another as equals." Whites "were remaking the world anew," and "repairing the damage created by the old world." They took part in the emancipation  movement "as a matter of duty--but they were no more likely to believe that Negroes were naturally equal to whites than they were that chalk was cheese."  It was part of the slave's "ongoing struggle for full equality that may have begun as an attempt to improve conditions of everyday life but that always aimed for recognition of their dignity and the respect granted a free people." Their long struggle for freedom also "rested on the expectation and demand for equality, meaning access to the tools of citizenship: at a minimum, the right to vote and the ability to earn a living through one's labor."

During the past 150 years, there have only been two relatively brief periods during which the majority of white people have actively supported African-American efforts to achieve true "equality." The first was the era of Congressional or "Radical"  Reconstruction" which lasted--at most--from 1867 to 1877. The second was during the 1950s and 1960s, when the "Civil Rights Movement" was at its zenith. The former produced the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and several Civil Rights Acts. African-American males became an important voting force; Sixteen blacks served in Congress, more than 600 in various state legislatures, and hundreds more as sheriffs , justices of the peace, and other local officers. Reconstruction governments established the region's first public school systems and hospitals, made taxation more equitable, and outlawed racial discrimination in public transportation and accommodations. The latter period produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and "officially" desegregated nearly every aspect of public life--from the military to education, from housing to transportation, and from restaurants to movie theaters.

Naturally, all of these measures provoked a firestorm of reaction among southern whites, ranging from intimidation to beatings, lynching, electoral fraud, and even wholesale assaults on black communities. That was to be expected, and African-Americans of both eras displayed almost unbelievable courage, fortitude, and resilience. Southern states erected a "Jim Crow" system of legal segregation in all aspects of life that persisted into the 1960s. Even more devastating. however, was abandonment by most northern whites, who were either distracted by other interests or motivated by a desire for white reunification. They even asserted their own brand of de facto segregation, which had much the same result as the de jure version. While white southerners told blacks to "come as close as you want, but don't try to go any higher; northern whites admonished them to "go as high as you want, but don't come any closer." Although continuing to pay at least lip service to the gains of the 1960s, many whites act as if "equality" has been fully achieved, once and for all. They even show a disturbing tendency to acquiesce in "roll backs" of the gains in education, housing, and voting rights supposedly "set in stone" during the Civil Rights Era. All of which begs the question: Have most whites ever accepted the kind and degree of "equality"that blacks have been pursuing over the past three and more centuries. Will we ever?
                     
JDB



             
              


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Slavery's Trail Of Tears

Those of you who found Edward E. Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told  as eye-opening and mind-boggling as I did <See my post of September 20: The Half Is Finally Being Told> will be at least as astounded by an article in the November issue of Smithsonian magazine titled "Slavery's Tale of Tears: Retracing America's Forgotten Migration--The Journey of a Million African-Americans from the Tobacco South to the Cotton South," (pp. 58-83). The author is Edward Ball, a university instructor and author of Slaves in the Family, whose ancestors were a slaveholding family in North Carolina for 170 years. It brings to life--in stunning and excruciating detail--the actual experiences of many "whose half has never been told."

Ball's interest was piqued by an 1834 note found in the University of North Carolina's archives from James Franklin of Natchez, Mississippi to the home office in Alexandria, Virginia of the partnership of Franklin and Armfield, "the undisputed tycoons of the domestic slave trade, with an economic impact that is hard to overstate." <In 1832, for example, five percent of the commercial credit available through the Second Bank of the United States was extended to the firm.> It was owned by Isaac Franklin, James' uncle, who operated in New Orleans, and John Armfield, who ran the business in Alexandria. The note read that "we have about ten thousand dollars (about $300,000 in today's money) left to pay yet. Should you purchase a good lot for walking, I will bring them out by land this summer."  That "good lot for walking" was a gang of enslaved men, women, and children, possibly numbering in the hundreds, "who could tolerate three month afoot in the summer heat."  Bringing them out by land referred to a forced march overland from the fields of Virginia to the slave auctions in Natchez and New Orleans. That note, according to Ball, was 'the first sign that I might be able to trace the route of one of Franklin and Armfield's caravans."

And retrace it he did--albeit "the easy way"--in his own car!  Either way, it was a journey of 1,100 miles, from Alexandria, Virginia (just across the Potomac River from my graduate school
alma mater--Georgetown University) to New Orleans. Just like that caravan, he drove in a southwesterly direction through Virginia until he crossed the Tennessee border at Knoxville. From there he proceeded to Nashville via Gallitin. Then through Tennessee and Mississippi to Natchez, and finally to New Orleans. Along the way, he uncovered manuscript collections at various libraries, archives and historical societies, and had the opportunity to interview several curators, archivists, and librarians, most of whom were in the process of discovering and exhibiting long-ignored treasure troves shedding considerable light on "Slavery's Trail of Tears."  Even more revealing were his interviews with descendants of both the enslavers and the enslaved.

One of the most instructive interviewees was Delores McQuinn of Richmond, who has been both a city council member and a representative in the Virginia House of Delegates.  She informed Ball that her grandfather had visited the house where his family had once been enslaved, and inquired if the owner had any documentation about their history. The man obligingly brought out a sheaf of papers and proceeded to burn them, saying "You want your history? Well, here it is. Take the ashes and get off my land." The intent, Ms. McQuinn intoned, was to "keep that history buried. Our history is often buried. You have to unearth it." Outside universities and museums, Ball concludes, "the history of the Slave Trail lives in shards, broken and scattered." While in Richmond, he met with Maurie McInnis, historian and vice-provost of UVA and curator of the Library of Virginia exhibit on the slave trade. She told Ball that some 450,000 slaves from Virginia were "sent south" between 1810 and 1860, and that, in 1857 alone, the sale of people in the future capital of the Confederacy netted its white masters $4,000,000. "That would be more than $440,000,000 today."

The mansion at Belle Grove--built by relatives of President James Madison--has been turned into a  "house museum" by historian Kristen Laise. She pulled out an 1824 newspaper ad placed by the master of Belle Grove, Madison's brother-in-law, saying that he "shall proceed to sell sixty slaves of various ages, in families." He regretted that he had to charge interest "if buyers insisted on using credit." The nicest families in the Shenandoah, Ball observes, "tipped people into the pipeline south." At the Winchester-Frederick County Visitor Center, in a bookshop in Edinburg, the Staunton Visitor Center, and in a Roanoke tourist information outlet called Virginia's Blue Ridge.  Ball asked " did people there know anything about the chain gangs that streamed southwest through these parts?" He elicited answers like "never heard of it" and "don't know what you are talking about." They mostly changed the subject to stories about "brave Confederates" or their own ethnic lore. He did happen upon an 1834 account by one George Featherstonhaugh, a geologist doing a surveying tour for the federal government. he described Armfield as "sordid, illiterate, and vulgar," with "overpowering bad breath," from eating raw onions. He also described a "singular spectacle" of nine wagons and carriages and some 200 men "manacled and chained to each other," lining up in double file, while Armfield and his men made jokes, "standing near, laughing and smoking cigars." It was "the most revolting sight' he had ever seen.

Men and boys sold, on average, for about $700. Multiply that by 200 and it comes to about $3.5million today. Slaves were routinely insured --plenty of companies did that sort of business with policies guarding against "damage." bur collecting "would be inconvenient."  While walking the streets of Radford, Ball chatted with one "Daniel," who exchanged pleasantries, "until I bring up the slave days Daniel's expression empties. He shakes his head. His face acquires a look that suggests the memory of slavery is like a  vampire visiting from a shallow grave."

At the Shenandoah, Armfield's "coffle" merged with others coming from the east. One of these was led by William Waller, who walked from Amherst, Virginia to Louisiana in 1847 with 20 or more slaves. In the deep archive of the Virginia Historical Society, Ball discovered "an extraordinary batch of letters that Waller wrote about selling people he had known and lived with for much of his life." His wife, Sarah Garland, was Patrick Henry's daughter and the wife of a congressman. He was deeply in debt and left a few slaves behind in Amherst as house servants for his family, while he marched with the rest to Natchez and New Orleans. He wrote some 20 letters home, in which he seems like businessman sending word that there is nothing to worry about. He was careful to assure his wife that "the negroes were happy." Even so, he admitted that he had felt and seen enough to make me loath the vocation of slave trading." He was especially morose because he had sold two young women apart from their parents. 'My heart grieves over Sarah and I do wish it could be different, but Sarah seems happy."  It as at the spine of the Blue Ridge where Armfield turned over his coffle to James, Isaac Franklin's nephew, and took a stage coach back to Alexandria.

In Gallitin, Ball drove out to the old Franklin estate, which was being transformed into a housing development and golf course called Fairvu Plantation.   "A thicket of McMansions, in every ersatz style," filled most of the area. But Ball decides to visit the more modest home of Kenneth Thomson, a direct descendant of Isaac Franklin, whose living room is dominated by a large oil portrait of his ancestor. He turned out to be the most candid--and therefore the most infuriating of all the descendant of slavers. After Isaac died, in 1846, "they published an inventory of his belongings" that ran to 900 pages. He had six plantations and 650 slaves." He knew "how to be a gentleman He had the equivalent of an eighth grade education. He was not ignorant. He could write a letter." Before he married, "Isaac had companions, some willing, some unwilling. That was just part of life." He had a child by a black woman before he married, but this daughter of his left Tennessee and nobody knows what happened to her after that." Actually, Uncle Isaac "sent her off" because  he didn't want her around after he married." It is possible, Ball interjects, that he sold her. "It would have been the easiest thing to do."                                              

Thomson produces a letter that he wrote some years ago to the  Gallitin Examiner. The headline reads "Isaac Franklin Was a Well-liked Slave Trader." Asked how a person inside the family measure the inheritance of slave trading, he replies that "You can't judge those people by today's standards." He adds that "many things in the Old Testament are pretty barbaric, but they are part of our evolution." Thomson expressed a special contempt for "revisionist historians." He emphasizes that has been around blacks his whole life, and that "they are good people." He denies that he is in any way responsible for the actions of his ancestors. Slavery "developed because of the ignorance of the blacks.They just "slid into slavery." He stresses that people in his family "looked after their slaves," that some free blacks themselves became slaveholders, and that American black are better off than West Africans. There is more, but you have to read it for yourself. Ball, himself the descendant of slave holders, that he recognized "the melody , and let the song pass."

While in Gallitin, Ball also interviewed 73-year--old Florence Hall Blair, a retired nurse. She tells him that "a lot of black people don't want to know about their ancestry," but counters that she is "not one of those people. When asked how she felt about Isaac Franklin, Ms. Blair professed "a certain detachment." He was "a cruel individual, but he was human." His humanity was not always visible, but it was there. She concludes that she has let go of hatred, because it only hurts those who hate. But she adds that she "wouldn't have made it too well in slavery days, because I am the kind of person who just can't imagine you would treat me the way they treated people. Like a dog, she calls it. "They would have had to kill me with my temperament." She expresses admiration for her own people. "We carried on."

Although there are few records about the trip from Nashville to New Orleans, Ball admits, "it is possible to follow in detail a coffle of people...thanks to William Waller's letters." Waller muses that the scenery is beautiful, but the trip itself was brutal. He was especially morose because he is not able to sell many of his slaves along the way, because the market for slaves was at low ebb. Prospective buyers came to look at "my negroes," and wanted to buy seven or eight, "but they objected to the price."  Waller wrote to Sarah that he did eventually sell some to "as kind a masters as could be found." She wrote back that she was "most pleased that you have sold at such fine prices," but that  "I wish you could have sold more of them." After examining the people on display, a buyer would talk to a seller and negotiate. Ball can't resist interjecting that "it was like buying a car today."

In Natchez, Ball interviewed the individual whom he calls "the man who has done the most to call attention to the Slave Trail." Clifton Boxley, who changed his name to Ser Seshsh Ab Heter brcause he regards his birth name as "the plantation name, his slave name." He is 75, "direct, assertive and arresting," with a full baritone voice. He does not make small talk. "I want to resurrect the history of the enslavement trade, and for 20 years that is where I've focused."  His "Jim Crow Kitchen" is filled with mammy salt shakers, black lawn jockeys, Uncle Tom figurines, and similar demeaning memorabilia. He forced the white population to accept his "Forks in the Road" project, for which he wrote the text for four of the trail markers.  "You feel something?" he asks Ball. "That's good. They say there were no feelings here." Boxley says that his aim is preserve every inch of dirt in this area. "I am fighting for our enslaved ancestors." Asked if there is any way to do this without injuring the sensitivity of friendly white people, he says "I don't spare anything. It is the humanity of our ancestors denied that I am interested in. This is your story as well as an African-American story."
The only way to transcend pain and hurt, he continues, is "to face the situation, to experience and cleanse yourself, to allow the humanity of your ancestors and their suffering to wash through you
and settle into your spirit." His parting words were "Peace out."

When he reaches his final destination, Ball talks with Erin Greenwald, who is the curator of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which is featuring an exhibition titled "Purchased Lives, New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808-1865," She is also the director of a  developing data base of names of those enslaved who were shipped from the Eastern States: "We studied hundreds of shipping manifests and compiled a list of 70,000 names. Of course, that is only some." The auction advertisement at the end of the Slave Trail, she relates, always said Virginia and Maryland Negroes, "because that meant compliant, docile, and not broken by overwork." She also produced a copy of the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel discussing slave auctions at the posh St. Louis Hotel, where two stages did business simultaneously--in both French and English. Here, families at the end of the Slave Trail were divided. The reporter described "a noble-looking woman with a wide-eyed seven-year-old."  He was sold separately to a man from Mississippi, his mother to a man from Texas. "She burst forth in the most frantic wails that ever despair gave utterance to."

After emancipation, historian Heather Williams relates, the Southwestern Christian Advocate began to carry a column called "Lost Friends," in which people called out for family members who had disappeared on the Slave Trail. She has unearthed a handful of reunion stories, one of which obviously deeply affected Ball. After years of searching, Robert Glenn located his aged mother from whom he had been torn at the age of eight. At first, she gave no indication of recognition, but she later approached him and asked "Tell me, ain't you my child whom I left on the road near Mr. Moore's farm before the war?" Glenn broke down and cried: "I did not know before I came home whether my parents were dead or alive, and now mother nor father did not know me."

I trust that my truncated rendering has inspired you to read Ball's article in its entirety---because:
1. Edward ball is a far better story teller than I am
2, The caricature on the title page brilliantly captures the essence of the Trail of Tears
3. The detailed map of the various Slave Trading Routes in absolutely incredible
4. It features a bone-chilling poster headlined "One Hundred Negroes For Sale."
5. There are gorgeous full-page photos of Delores McQuinn, Maurie McInnis, Kenneth Thomson, Florence Blair Hall, Clifton Boxley, and Erin Greenwald.                     

                                                               JDB  














                  






























                                 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"The Half" Is Finally Being Told

 " TRULY, SON, THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD.": Former slave Lorenzo Ivy to Claude Anderson, an African-American master's student at Hampton University, who is interviewing him as part of SLAVE NARRATIVE PROGRAM of the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION IN 1936.

To this day, it still has not. it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed, and moved, and grew over time. Lorenzo Ivy's time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, the most important American innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African  Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more then a million enslaved people that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized also by force from their Native American inhabitants. From 1783, the end of the American Revolution, to 1861, the number of slaves in the U.S. increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African Americans to pick cotton more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery's expansion shaped every crucial expansion of the economy and politics of the new nation --not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing United States politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping make the Civil War possible... The idea that  commodification and suffering and forced labor is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth, and the truth was half the story that survived, mostly in the custodianship of those who survived slavery's expansion. Forced migration had shaped their lives and also shaped what they thought about their lives and the wider history in which they were enmeshed. Even as they struggled to stay alive in the midst of disruption, they created ways to talk about this half untold. But what survivors experienced, analyzed, and named was a slavery that did not fit the comfortable boxes into which other Americans have been trying to fit it ever since it ended.

The above paragraph encapsulates the driving thesis of one of the most intellectually stimulating and emotional riveting books that I have ever had the great fortune to read: The Half Has Never Been told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2114). It is easier for me to conceptualize his thesis as two separate, arguments, but, in their real world operation, they are inextricably intertwined. The first is the inescapable conclusion that the Plantation Economy was the engine that drove the nation's industrialization, financialization, and modernization. The Civil War, in his interpretation was not a clash between two incompatible paradigms, but rather a quarrel over how the proceeds should be apportioned, and whether the Plantation Economy, with its total reliance on slave labor, would be allowed to expand farther into the new western territories. The second is that slave labor was not an aberration in a modernizing world, but a dynamic and expanding component, precisely because it was more "efficient" than free labor. That assumes, of course, that you did not need your workforce to function as consumers, as well as producers. He argues that, in the one instance when planters from the North tried to pay free labor a fair wage on the Carolina Sea Islands, "half the cotton was rotting in the fields--cotton that could have been picked only at whip-driven speed."  The same held true when masters tried to utilize laborers from the cotton fields on  the factory floor. It was also true if you did not scruple about subjecting your workforce to beatings, torture, maiming, mutilation, and homicide. The minions of the "lords of the lash" would always have bested those of the "lords of the loom."

With profound apologies to Professor Baptist, I will endeavor to provide you with an outline and a chronology in which to understand his narrative. Slavery was legal and ubiquitous throughout all 13 colonies at the time of the American Revolution, but it was far more vital in those whose economies were based on growing tobacco--Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, and Delaware. As the colonies morphed into states and wrote their respective constitutions, each debated the issue of slavery. The other 7--New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire--provided for its gradual abolition. In some, the process of emancipation was so "gradual" that they still had elderly slaves living there at the advent of the Civil War. Those who were emancipated were generally sentened to the lowest rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. All of them instituted de facto segregation in employment, housing, education, and politics, which persisted well into the 20th century. A substantial portion of white Northerners experienced measurable increases in the standard of living by investing in cotton--and slaves, all the while chastising Southerners for providing them with the source of their good fortune. The movement to abolish slavery proceeded at a glacial pace, if at all. Both Baptist and historian Ira Berlin insist that such movements "were not the charitable work of respectable white people, or not mainly that." It was, instead, "made possible by the constant discomfort inflicted upon middle-class white society by black activists."

The issue of slavery was so contentious during the 1787 Constitutional Convention that it required several crucial compromises: 1) Counting slaves as three-fifths of free people for purposes of both taxation and representation; 2) Prohibiting the importation of slaves--but not until 1807, giving those who continued the practice an additional two decades to benefit. Even after 1807, slave-smuggling remained a lucrative--if nefarious--business; 3) all states agreed to extradite "fugitives from justice." <Guess who most of those were ?> The Northwest Ordinances, which predated the Constitution, prohibited slavery in what eventually became Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. No provision for or against it was made for the remaining territory ceded by Britain in the 1783 Peace of Paris, but a fair number of slaveholders began to move their "property" into what eventually became Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It was generally agreed that the Ohio River would constitute the boundary between slave and free territories.

Much of the history of the mid-19th century featured a series of "compromises" between those who wanted to extend slavery into each newly acquired chunk of real estate, and those who wanted to prohibit it in those lands "due west" of "free" territories. Probably the most important compromise of all was the mutual agreement there must be an equal number of free and slave states--and a corresponding parity of U.S. Senators. New states were only admitted in "pairs." The Louisiana Purchas of 1803 virtually doubled the size of the country, opening up a vast new arena in which to contest the extension of slavery. Equally portentous was the acquisition of the port of New Orleans, which allowed unimpeded access to the Gulf of Mexico--up and down the length of
the Mississippi River on both sides. In 1819, Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state, threatening to upset the carefully constructed balance. But the Compromise of 1820 (more generally known as the Missouri Compromise) restored it by the admission of Maine as a free state, and by drawing an imaginary line of demarcation at 36 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude throughout the entire Louisiana Purchase territory--prohibiting slavery north of it and permitting it south of the line. In the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded all of Florida to the U.S., in return for the latter's agreement not to contest the former's claims southwest of the Mississippi.

As "luck" would have it, all of Mexico won its independence from Spain the following year, thus rendering the agreement moot--at least in American eyes. In a frantic effort to protect what was to become Texas from American expansion, the nascent Mexican government gave generous land grants to those settlers willing to swear a loyalty oath, convert to Catholicism, and leave their slaves behind. Large numbers of Americans (GTT quickly became the operant explanation for any departure from an American address) took up the offer, with some even marrying Mexican women and converting, but they also brought along their slaves. Together with those Mexicans seeking relief from the central government in Mexico City, they seceded and formed their own republic. (Contrary to popular belief, many "Texicans" were ethnically Mexicans.) The newly minted Texicans were seriously divided over maintaining independence versus annexation by the U.S.. That same issue started a firestorm in the U.S., between those who envisioned Texas as potentially one or more slave states, and those who proclaimed that annexation was a "slaveholders' plot" to take over the country. During the election campaign of 1844, Democratic presidential candidate James K. Polk's (who was James K. Polk ?) opponents sarcastically asked.) promised annexation; his election persuaded the "lame duck" Congress to do exactly that. The controversy over the southern boundary of Texas led to U.S. invasion of Mexico ( a one-term Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln was one of those who disputed Polk's version). The overwhelming American victory led to the hotly-contested Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which Polk threatened to abrogate, but which also included Mexican cession of California, and parts of what became Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Polk had also pledged to annex the Oregon Territory, including even what became British Columbia (54/40 or Fight!). Another compromise--this one with Great Britain--established the U.S.-Canadian border at 49 degrees North Latitude.

The super-charged debate over the territories acquired from Mexico lasted four bitter years, until it was seemingly settled by yet another compromise, which its overly optimistic supporters dubbed "The Great Compromise." It consisted of five different bills, all passed on the same day in September, 1850.Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico and the federal government agreed to assume the state's public debt. California was admitted to the Union as a free state. The slave trade was abolished in D.C., although slavery per se was continued. (Well, you couldn't expect slaveholding members of Congress to get along without their personal servants!)  The territories of Utah and New Mexico were officially declared "organized" under the rubric of "popular sovereignty, while the rest of the lands taken from Mexico were annexed "without reference to slavery." This was a classic case of "passing the buck," allowing both sides to heave a sigh of relief, albeit temporarily.

But it was the fifth bill--the Fugitive Slave Act--that proved to be incendiary!!! It mandated the return of runaway slaves and commissioned U.S. marshals to pursue and capture them in free states,  subject only to approval by the courts. It was the "fire bell ringing in the night" that Jefferson had predicted long before. Many Northerners vociferously condemned it, vowed to disobey it, and denounced such anti-slavery icons as Daniel Webster for urging its passage. (see Webster's Seventh of May Speech). Other reluctantly agreed, regarding it as the price to pay for California, the end of slave auctions in the nation's capital, and delaying the spread of slavery into the rest of the Mexican cession.  But the last was only a stop-gap measure; slaveholders were already beginning to infiltrate Utah and New Mexico. The brutal reality of federal marshals arresting runaways in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, however, provoked armed resistance, and made numerous converts to the abolitionist cause. The flames were fanned by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the brain child of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who was regarded as the likely Democratic presidential candidate for 1860. The act divided the territory in twain, with the question of slavery left to "popular sovereignty." To accomplish this legerdemain, the 36/30 line of the Missouri Compromise was repealed. The resulting firestorm led to the proliferation of "anti-Nebraska" protest meetings , tore the Whigs asunder, giving birth to the nascent Republican Party, the outbreak of the bloody "Kansas Civil War," and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.

By the time of the 1860 elections, the majority of Northerners were adamantly opposed to any further expansion of slavery, the touchstone of the successful Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. The new president, who received only 40 percent of the popular vote, but the necessary number of electoral votes, tried to temporize by declaring that his priority was the preservation of the Union, no matter what the ultimate fate of slavery. Douglas had expressed the same devotion to the Union, blissfully unaware that popular sovereignty made that impossible. Many died-in-the-wool abolitionists had abstained, seeing little difference between the two candidates. Many were in favor of the "colonization" of emancipated African Americans to Africa or the Caribbean, a solution that Lincoln himself seriously considered. Even at that late date, John Crittenden of Kentucky formed a group of 13 compromise-minded Senators who cobbled together an "omnibus" of six amendments and four resolutions they hoped would avoid secession. The most important amendment would have restored the Missouri Compromise line, thereby allowing slavery in Kansas, even though it was north of that demarcation. Their proposal would have made slavery perpetual--in direct contradiction to Lincoln's oft-repeated conviction that the nation could not exist "half free and half slave." The president responded that there could be "no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and ere, must be done again." It would also mean voiding the1860 election, deposing Lincoln, and rendering the nascent Republican Party stillborn. If the Crittenden compromise were adopted, Lincoln declared, "a year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union." The Republicans in Congress reluctantly sided with Lincoln, although they offered to admit New Mexico as a slave state.

It is impossible to know for certain what would have transpired if the Southern states had not seized the initiative by seceding and expropriating Union property. Once they did so, Lincoln had no real alternative but to provision the soldiers at Fort Sumter, although he explicitly ruled out staging  any military action to rescue them. Some have even claimed that he planned it that way from the outset, but there is no substantial evidence to support such a stratagem. In any case, it was the secessionists who fired the first shot of the Civil War. In their conventions, Baptist pointedly observes, "the more enslaved people secession delegates owned, the more radical were their demands." Taking the high ground, Lincoln famously proclaimed "though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle ground and patriot grave---may yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Probably the most brilliant section of this incredibly brilliant book is the author's Afterword, pp. 401-420, titled "Corpse."  On pages 397 to 407, he carefully analyses the impact of the war on the  plantation hierarchy. It was not exactly "bottom rail on top," but it was certainly a mind-blowing reconfiguration. Believing that "King Cotton" would give them enough leverage to sway European powers to their cause, they stopped growing their precious staple crop, switching to the production of food for the Confederate armies. By early 1862, the volume of bales received at Liverpool fell to a mere three percent of 1860 levels. This sudden dearth of cotton on the world market, however, shockingly increased prices, rendering cotton from other production zones--West Africa, Egypt, and Brazil--price-competitive for the first time. Accordingly, the African slave trade directly to Egypt swelled from 5,000  in the 1850s to 20,000 by 1865. Simultaneously, the Confederacy lost control of its oldest and most productive region--the Carolina sea islands--as the Union Navy wrested control and the planters fled. The African Americans, who made up more than 90 percent of the remaining population, petitioned to convert plantation lands into small plots for their use, but policy makers had other ideas. As the 1862 crop neared fruition, the federal Treasury Department asserted authority over the abandoned lands and rented them out to Northern entrepreneurs, who reinstituted the plantation system, using the former slaves as "free", but cheap, labor. They claimed that they could produce the same amount of cotton 25 percent cheaper. <See discussion above> Neither new source of cotton production came even close to matching pre-war levels, rendering it scarce and high-priced on the world market. When the Union navy captured New Orleans in early 1862, "contrabands" fled from slave labor camps to Union-held forts west of the city. In April of that year, Congress appropriated $1,000,000 to buy freedom for the  3,000 slaves in D.C.. When Union forces "won" the bloodbath at Antietam in September, Lincoln secretly drafted the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in territories under Confederate control. On January 1, 1863, he went public with the proclamation that Baptist calls "important executive order ever issued by an American president." It did not free slaves in Union-occupied territory, in the 50 western counties of Virginia about to become West Virginia, and in southern Louisiana, where Northerners were planning to establish a "reconstructed" state government. Following Lincoln's example, a growing number of Union officers began to give runaways the choice of being returned to their place of origin or enlisting in the army. Most chose the latter.

Panicked slaveholders herded as many of their captives as possible to Texas, a practice called "refugeeing." Union occupiers tried to "scatter about" as many slaves as possible onto their plantations to do heavy labor.Meanwhile, Lincoln issued an order allowing African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Over the next two years, according to Baptist, almost 200,000 --many of them former slaves--"did mighty things that defined the rest of their lives." In so doing, he fulfilled the prediction of Fredrick Douglass: "Let the black man get upon his person the brass letter U.S., a musket upon his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth, or under the earth, which can say that he has not earned the right of citizenship in the U.S.". Although the Confederacy was too weak to mount any major offensives in 1864 and 1865, the author charges, "it could still make the Union spill oceans of blood for every advance in Virginia, Tennessee. and Georgia." As the resolve of Northerners waned, volunteers declined, draft resistance increased, and a growing number began to favor a negotiated peace," which was "exactly what Jeff Davis and the Confederacy wanted." Under those constraints, Baptist boldly asserts, 200,000 African American soldiers "kept the faith and provided the spark needed to achieve victory." They "paid a collective heavy price--40,00 died in battle, and a similar number may have died in camps or in the chaos of the war-devastated South." They provided a crucial increment for a North that "was running out of soldiers." Their service in battle, he concludes, "had saved the nation."

In Baptist's view, Lincoln was "either the last casualty of the Civil War or the first of a long civil rights movement that is not yet over." Either way, it is clear that his assassination prevented  realization of the Reconstruction he envisioned in his second inaugural address, which the author calls ?the greatest speech ever given in the English language," one "that was itself a history of the half told." But his assassination also killed Lincoln plans for reconstruction, because his successor was" unfortunately an alcoholic racist bent on undermining emancipation." Andrew Johnson signaled southern whites that "they could build a new white supremacy that looked very much like the one that blacks had fought to end." In the elections of 1865, southern white voters made it glaringly obvious that they would not come to terms with black freedom. In Congressional elections that fall, "they sent a host of sullen Confederates back to Washington." At the same time, they worked in their state legislatures to keep the status of African Americans as close to slavery as possible. They enacted vagrancy laws to limit mobility, apprenticeship statutes binding young blacks to white families as captive labor, and threatened to reinstate "the law of the lash" in order to reinvigorate productivity. Incensed by whites who refused to accept the verdict of the war, a majority faction of "Radical" Republicans assumed control of Reconstruction. Overriding Johnson's objections, they refused to seat the newly elected members of Congress, while passing a series of bills taking the franchise away from ex-Confederate officers and officials. They extended the authority of occupying Union forces, and created the "Freedman's Bureau" to employ new systems of "free" labor. The Bureau sent agents to mediate between the land-owning, but cash-poor, planters and their former slaves. Although the latter wanted "40 Acres and a Mule" to practice subsistence agriculture, they remained landless. Neither white landowners nor federal policy-makers had any intention of allowing former slaves to become competitors. Instead, the Freedman's Bureau forced former slaves and former owners to sign and honor wage-labor contracts. Eventually, a compromise system of "sharecropping" and "tenant farming" emerged, in which blacks were given small plots for subsistence farming, in exchange for a percentage of the harvest.  Land owners and "country stores" advanced blacks seeds, goods, and utensils on credit, to be paid on "settling up day." Guess who kept the books? <As "Tennessee Ernie" Ford sang it in the 1950s, blacks and poor whites alike "owed their soul to the company store.">

The Congressional "Radicals" also made ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments a condition for "readmission" to the Union (from which they had supposedly never had the power to secede in the first place). With occupying Union soldiers policing, many Southern states "enjoyed" the closest thing to "real" elections prior to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Naturally, that meant that a fair number of African Americans were elected to local, state, and national offices--for a while at least!  To many observers, Reconstruction "seemed like it might produce a radically transformed South," one that also looked a lot like that portrayed by today's revisionist historians, such as Foner , Franklin, Weisberger, and Stampp. <See my previous post "A New Look At Reconstruction.>

Battered by the severe economic depression of 1873-1877, and exhausted from several decades of trying to deal with reality, a majority of whites lost their enthusiasm for remaking society. The final blow came in the bitterly disputed presidential election of 1876, in which Democrat Samuel J. Tilden seemingly bested Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Except that Tilden was an electoral vote short, with the 20 tallies of three southern states as yet uncertified. In an attempt to resolve the issue, Congress empowered a committee composed of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats After weeks of acrimonious debates, that august body approved what became known as the "Compromise of 1877." The Republicans accepted "home rule" for the remaining southern states, in exchange for Hayes election. The "winner"' removed all federal troops from the South, while newly elected "Redeemer" state legislatures disenfranchised virtually all African Americans, as well as "many of the less reliable whites." Their methods included the poll tax, the literacy rest, the "grandfather clause," and "multiple ballot boxes." Above all, they resorted to intimidation, rape, violence, lynching, and other assorted form of murder. Stealing one election after another, they substituted the Democratic "Solid South" for real political competition.

Redeemer legislatures imposed legal segregation--better known as "Jim Crow"--on every aspect of life. Freed from the "tyranny" of  military occupation, the KKK and myriad other terrorists engaged in systematic mayhem. The erected statues of Confederate "heroes" in most public spaces, memorialized ant-bellum days in every conceivable media <Who could resist "Birth of a Nation" or "Gone With the Wind"?>, and wrote ersatz histories that portrayed slavery as a  "benign" and "states rights" as the sole cause of secession. <As Eric Foner has observed, those "historians have a lot to answer for.">

But, as Baptist clearly documents, this new white empire proved more self-destructive and less profitable than its predecessor. Although the redeemers promised a "New South," they were severely constrained by "two post-slavery realities." One was that no un-enslaved human being could possibly perform hard labor "at the breakneck, soul-searing pace of the whipping machine." The number of bales did not even reach their 1859 peak until 1875, despite a significant increase in the number of "hands." Many enslaved people could pick well over 200 lbs. a day in the 1850s; their great-grandchildren ere unable to harvest 120. Many white "yeoman' farmers," impoverished by war and unable to pay either taxes or debts, lost their land and became sharecroppers or tenants themselves. Because of the political and economic isolation necessary to maintain white supremacy, the entire region sunk into a subordinate, colonial-like status. It did not have enough capital--"whether of the financial or well-educated human kind." Thus by the 1930s, a lifetime after the Civil War, the majority of blacks and white alike "were poor and worked on farms--often farms they did not own."

The last ten pages of the book are a masterpiece of penetrating historical analysis combined with passionate conviction. He begins on page 411; "But the body of African Americans, stretched and chained again, the body whose tongue and spirit and blood had developed alongside slavery's expansion was still alive....Day after day, year after year, the half untold was told, and in the tomb the body stirred" and ends on page 419: And somewhere--not far from Danville--law students three generations removed from slavery's expansion were still alive, huddled, planning the next move against Jim Crow and lynching." Those pages are quite simply the most enlightening and powerful summary of its topic that I have ever read, far beyond my limited ability to summarize or paraphrase.

SO READ IT FOR YOURSELF. IT WILL BE AN EYE-OPENING AND MIND-BLOWING EXPERIENCE!

JDB       

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Taking Another Look at the Reconstruction Era

Jennifer Schuessler 's "Taking Another Look at the Reconstruction Era," (New York  Times, August 24, 2015) is further proof that a growing number of Americans are struggling to come to grips with the historical reality that slavery and racism have been indelibly imprinted on American identity and culture from the very beginning. There can be little doubt that the Reconstruction Era has long been one of the most polarizing topics of our national story--both for professional historians and for the general public. The particulars of that polarization have been skillfully delineated by Bernard Weisberger in "The Dark and Bloody Ground of Reconstruction Historiography," The Journal of Southern History, v.25 ( November, 1959), pp.427-447 and by Eric Foner in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988).

There has been general agreement that the Era of Reconstruction began with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in January,1863 and ended with the Compromise of 1887, in which Congressional Democrats agreed not to contest the nefarious 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president.In exchange,  Republicans disavowed further national efforts to enforce the rights of black citizens, and allowed white Democrats to control the politics and government of the Southern states. Even so, some Republicans still tried to block efforts to impose complete legal segregation and the "Jim Crow" system until well into the 1890s. The final blow came in 1896, with the Supreme Court's "separate but equal" decision in Plessey v. Ferguson.

From that point until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Reconstruction Era historiography was almost completely dominated by pro-Southern scholars, such as the "Dunning School", who argued that black suffrage had been a gigantic blunder and that the Republican state governments that rested upon the votes of Negro Freedmen, Northern"carpetbaggers", and Southern "scalawags" had been corrupt, extravagant, unrepresentative, and oppressive. This interpretation was given great popular currency in myriad books and movies, such as The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. Just about the sole dissenting voice among historians was that of WEB Du Bois, the first African American to earns a doctorate at Harvard, co-founder of the NAACP, and civil rights activist, As editor of The Crisis, he penned numerous editorials and essays on Reconstruction; he also published Black Reconstruction in America, in which he refuted the arguments of the Dunning School, while painting a richly detailed and highly positive portrait of Reconstruction in the various states. His work later served as a primer for historians of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Foner, Weisberger, John Hope Franklin,  C. Vann Woodward, and Kenneth Stampp, who have almost totally rewritten the historical record.Their work was inspired by the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, which has often been called" the Second Reconstruction."

As Foner recently proclaimed, these more recent scholars regard the Dunning School as "not just an interpretation of history. It was part of the edifice of the Jim Crow system. It was an explanation for and justification of taking the vote away from black people on the grounds that they completely abused it during Reconstruction....And it was only after the Civil Rights revolution swept away the racist underpinnings of that old view that black people are incapable of taking part in American democracy--that you get a new view of Reconstruction widely accepted." By the end of the 20th  century, their pro-Reconstruction interpretation predominated just about everywhere, except among white supremacists and die-hard believers in "the Lost Cause."  Perhaps the best indicator
of how far the interpretive pendulum has swung during the past half-century is Foner's admonition in "Why Reconstruction Matters," (New York Times, March 28, 2015): "For a long time, it was an intellectual straightjacket for much of the white South, and historians have a lot to answer for in helping to propagate a racist system  in this country."

Inevitably, this historiographical revolution is being gradually reflected in the exhibits, artifacts, and archival material displayed in historical sites and museums. Many of those venues, as Schuessler demonstrates in great detail, are staffed and operated by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS)  During the past two decades, NPS has overhauled its Civil War sites, incorporating material on slavery and race into exhibits that had long been criticized by scholars for avoiding discussion of their root causes. Even so, its 408 properties still do not include a single site dedicated the postwar struggle to build a racially equal democracy. " It is biggest gap in the record by far, according to Robert Sutton, its chief historian, adding that too many Americans still regard Reconstruction as "a disaster" best left forgotten."

To fill that chasm, the NPS has hired two historians to conduct a comprehensive survey of "nationally significant" sites connected with Reconstruction--the first step toward possible designation of a new site by Congress. Its on-the-ground coordinator is Michael Allen, a community partnership specialist with three decades of experience. Allen, who grew up in South Carolina, admits that he "had to become an adult to learn that history. It was never presented to me." This initiative was first announced in May and has been given added impetus by the proliferation of racial conflicts in Ferguson and Charleston, as well as by the continuing debates over Black Lives Matter. These incidents, she notes, "have only underlined enduring relevance of an era that saw both the dramatic expansion of rights for African-Americans and their violent rollback." As Allen has observed, the nation has just finished commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and some people have jumped to various civil rights anniversaries, but "how do you make that jump without dealing with what came in between?"

The NPS, in acknowledging the interpretive recalibrations wrought by historians, has defined the Era as dating from 1861, when slaves began fleeing to Union encampments, until 1898, when Jim Crow laws were firmly in place. It will highlight the passage of the  13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which granted equal citizenship and voting rights to four million formerly enslaved African-Americans, as well as the creation of the first statewide public school systems in Southern states (for whites as well as blacks), the first significant public hospitals, new labor policies and other transformations. "It was an amazing period in the history of American democracy," says Kate Masur, a Northwestern University professor who is one of the authors of the seminal NPS report. "It is when you really see these ideas about equality and human rights that America had put on the table being understood in a new way." There may not be any field of history "where the gap between what historians know and what people believe," added Gregory P. Downs, co-author of the report who has recently moved from City University of New York to U.C., Davis. He and Masur have also edited a  collection of essays on Reconstruction written by leading historians, which will be distributed in all NPS shops beginning this month.

The NPS is searching for possible museum sites, and Schuessler makes a strong case for Beaufort, South Carolina, a city of some 13,000 that sits between such popular tourist venues as Charleston,   Hilton Head, and Savannah.  It was at Beaufort that Union forces took control in November, 1861, and initiated what historian Willie Lee Rose called the "rehearsal for Reconstruction." Since its sea island plantation owners had fled, soldiers worked with missionaries, teachers, and former slaves to establish a viable society. They built churches and schools, and founded Mitchelville, on Hilton Head, where about 3,500 people constructed houses, established mandatory education, and established a government. It was from nearby Charleston Harbor that Robert Smalls, the pilot of  an enslaved ship commandeered a Confederate vessel that joined Union ships in battle, later bought his former master's house and was elected to the state legislature and to Congress. Beaufort's mayor, Billy Keyserling, is attempting to create a "Reconstruction hub" in its central business district. A bill to allocate funding passed the Senate in 2003, only to fail in the House, primarily due to an  campaign led by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, that stigmatized Reconstruction as a time that "victimized many South Carolinians." The organization helped sponsor a 150th commemoration of "The War," that culminated in a "secession ball." Allen, who has mediated discussions between the SCV and the NAACP that resulted in the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the state capitol, is optimistic about the creation of a" new climate."  Democratic Congressman James E. Clyburn, a former high school history teacher who represents part of Beaufort County is more sanguine, seeing the NPS plans as "long overdue," but predicting "some resistance, maybe some significant resistance." He charges that the NPS initiative has been "intentionally misrepresented" by the Sons and similar   organizations.

Some institutions, especially the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in Columbia SC, are already highlighting Reconstruction's positive achievements, while denouncing the "political terrorism" that eventually undermined them. Fielding Fred, director of house museums for historic Columbia, believes that "it's not like we hit people over the head and tell them 'Everything you've heard about Reconstruction is wrong,' but as people move through, you can see them thinking." The president of the Mitchelville Preservation Project calls it "an incredible story that has never been told," even while admitting that he "personally doesn't like Reconstruction."

Downs, Masur's co-director, sums the task up succinctly: "It took a lot of time and effort to establish the myths of Reconstruction. It's going to take a lot of time and effort to tear down those myths."

THAT MAY BE ONE OF THE CLASSIC UNDERSTATEMENTS OF ALL TIME.

JDB