Will the Right’s Fake History Prevail?

Exclusive: Tea Partiers have convinced millions of Americans that they are standing with the Constitution’s Framers in a common disdain for a strong, activist federal government. That is false history but it is undergirding the expected Republican congressional victories on Tuesday, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If most polls are correct and voters elect a Republican-controlled Congress on Tuesday, a principal reason is that many Americans have been sold on a false recounting of the nation’s Founding Narrative. They have bought the Right’s made-up storyline about the Constitution’s Framers detesting a strong federal government and favoring states’ rights.

This notion of the Framers as enemies of an activist national government is untrue but has become a popular meme as promoted through the vast right-wing media and accepted by the timid mainstream press, which is unwilling to fight for an accurate portrayal of what the Federalists who wrote the Constitution intended.

President James Madison, an architect of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but also a Virginia slave owner.

President James Madison, an architect of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but also a Virginia slave owner.

So, without much pushback from those who know better, the Tea Partiers, Libertarians and many Republicans have successfully walled off much of the U.S. population from the actual history, which would reveal the American Right to be arguably the opposite of true patriots in its disdain for the assertive national governance devised in 1787.

Plus, the Right’s fake interpretation of the Constitution cannot be disentangled from the disgraceful history of slavery, segregation and today’s renewed efforts to prevent black and brown Americans from voting.

Indeed, race has always been an intrinsic element in the American Right’s history, which can be roughly divided into four eras: the pre-Confederate period from 1787 to 1860 when slave owners first opposed and then sought to constrain the Constitution, viewing it as a threat to slavery; the actual Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 when the South took up arms against the Constitution in defense of slavery; the post-Confederate era from 1866 to the 1960s when white racists violently thwarted constitutional protections for blacks; and the neo-Confederate era from 1969 to today when these racists jumped to the Republican Party in an attempt to extend white supremacy behind various code words and subterfuges.

It is true that the racist Right has often moved in tandem with the wealthy-elite Right, which has regarded the regulatory powers of the federal government as a threat to the ability of rich industrialists to operate corporations and to control the economy without regard to the larger public good.

But the historical reality is that both the white supremacists and the anti-regulatory corporatists viewed the Constitution as a threat to their interests because of its creation of a powerful central government that was given a mandate to “promote the general Welfare.” The Constitution was far from perfect and its authors did not always have the noblest of motives, but it created a structure that could reflect the popular will and be used for the nation’s good.

The key Framers of the Constitution the likes of George Washington, James Madison (who then was a protégé of Washington) Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who wrote the famous Preamble) were what might be called “pragmatic nationalists” determined to do what was necessary to protect the nation’s fragile independence and to advance the country’s economic development.

In 1787, the Framers’ principal concern was that the existing government structure the Articles of Confederation was unworkable because it embraced a system of strong states, deemed “sovereign” and “independent,” and a weak central government called simply a “league of friendship” among the states.

The Constitution flipped that relationship, making federal law supreme and seeking to make the states “subordinately useful,” in Madison’s evocative phrase. Though the Constitution did make implicit concessions to slavery in order to persuade southern delegates to sign on, the shift toward federal dominance was immediately perceived as an eventual threat to slavery.

Fearing for Slavery

Key Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, argued that over time the more industrial North would grow dominant and insist on the elimination of slavery. And, it was known that a number of key participants at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, were strongly opposed to slavery and that Washington was troubled by human bondage though a slaveholder himself.

So, Henry and Mason cited the threat to slavery as their hot-button argument against ratification. In 1788, Henry warned his fellow Virginians that if they approved the Constitution, it would put their massive capital investment in slaves in jeopardy. Imagining the possibility of a federal tax on slaveholding, Henry declared, “They’ll free your niggers!”

It is a testament to how we have whitewashed U.S. history on the evils of slavery that Patrick Henry is far better known for his declaration before the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death!” than his equally pithy warning, “They’ll free your niggers!”

Similarly, George Mason, Henry’s collaborator in trying to scare Virginia’s slaveholders into opposing the Constitution, is recalled as an instigator of the Bill of Rights, rather than as a defender of slavery. A key “freedom” that Henry and Mason fretted about was the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, Henry and Mason argued that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President as commander in chief might “federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the struggle to block ratification, they soon shifted into a strategy of redefining the federal powers contained in the Constitution, with the goal of minimizing them and thus preventing a strong federal government from emerging as a threat to slavery.

In this early stage of the pre-Confederacy era, the worried slave owners turned to one of their own, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and a charismatic politician who had been in France during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and enactment of the Bill of Rights.

Though Jefferson had criticized the new governing document especially over its broad executive powers, he was not an outright opponent and thus was a perfect vehicle for seeking to limit the Constitution’s reach. Even as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson began organizing against the formation of the new government as it was being designed by the Federalists, especially Washington’s energetic Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalists, who were the principal Framers, understood the Constitution to grant the central government all necessary powers to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” However, Jefferson and his fellow Southern slaveholders were determined to limit those powers by reinterpreting what the Constitution allowed much more narrowly. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Partisan Warfare

Through the 1790s, Jefferson and his Southern-based faction engaged in fierce partisan warfare against the Federalists, particularly Alexander Hamilton but also John Adams and implicitly George Washington. Jefferson opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country’s development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals to support for manufacturing.

As Jefferson’s faction gained strength, it also pulled in James Madison who, for reasons of political survival and personal finances, embraced the slave interests of his fellow Virginians. Madison essentially moved from under Washington’s wing to under Jefferson’s. Then, with Madison’s acquiescence, Jefferson developed the extra-constitutional theories of state “nullification” of federal law and even the principle of secession.

Historians Burstein and Isenberg wrote in Madison and Jefferson that these two important Founders must be understood as, first and foremost, politicians representing the interests of Virginia where the two men lived nearby each other on plantations worked by African-American slaves, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.

“It is hard for most to think of Madison and Jefferson and admit that they were Virginians first, Americans second,” Burstein and Isenberg said. “But this fact seems beyond dispute. Virginians felt they had to act to protect the interests of the Old Dominion, or else, before long, they would become marginalized by a northern-dominated economy.

“Virginians who thought in terms of the profit to be reaped in land were often reluctant to invest in manufacturing enterprises. The real tragedy is that they chose to speculate in slaves rather than in textile factories and iron works. And so as Virginians tied their fortunes to the land, they failed to extricate themselves from a way of life that was limited in outlook and produced only resistance to economic development.”

Because of political mistakes by the Federalists and Jefferson’s success in portraying himself as an advocate of simple farmers (when he was really the avatar for the plantation owners), Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the election of 1800, clearing the way for a more constrained interpretation of the Constitution and a 24-year Virginia Dynasty over the White House with Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe, all slaveholders.

By the time the Virginia Dynasty ended, slavery had spread to newer states to the west and was more deeply entrenched than ever before. Indeed, not only was Virginia’s agriculture tied to the institution of slavery but after the Constitution banned the importation of slaves in 1808, Virginia developed a new industry, the breeding of slaves for sale to new states in the west. Jefferson even wanted all the new states from the Louisiana Territories to be slave states. [For details on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison” and “Thomas Jefferson: America’s Founding Sociopath.”]

Toward Civil War

Thus, America’s course to the Civil War was set. Ironically the warnings of Patrick Henry and George Mason proved prescient as the growing industrial strength of the North gave momentum to a movement for abolishing slavery. When Abraham Lincoln, the presidential candidate for the new anti-slavery Republican Party, won the 1860 election, southern slave states seceded from the Union, claiming they were defending the principle of states’ rights but really they were protecting the economic interests of slave owners.

The South’s bloody defeat in the Civil War finally ended slavery and the North sought for several years to “reconstruct” the South as a place that would respect the rights of freed slaves. But the traditional white power structure reasserted itself, employing violence against blacks and the so-called “carpetbaggers” from the North.

As white Southerners organized politically under the banner of the Democratic Party, which had defended slavery since its origins in Jefferson’s plantation-based political faction, the North and the Republicans grew weary of trying to police the South. Soon, southern whites were pushing blacks into a form of crypto-slavery through a combination of Jim Crow laws, white supremacist ideology and Ku Klux Klan terror.

Thus, the century after the Civil War could be designated the post-Confederate era of the American Right. This restoration of the South’s white power structure also coincided with the emergence of the North’s Robber Barons the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan who amassed extraordinary wealth and used it to achieve political clout in favor of laissez-faire economics.

In that sense, the interests of the northern industrialists and the southern aristocracy dovetailed in a common opposition to any federal authority that might reflect the interests of the common man, either the white industrial workers of the North or the black sharecroppers of the South.

However, amid recurring financial calamities on Wall Street that drove many Americans into abject poverty and with the disgraceful treatment of African-Americans in the South, reform movements began to emerge in the early Twentieth Century, reviving the founding ideal that the federal government should “promote the general Welfare.”

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the grip of the aging Robber Barons and their descendants began to slip. Despite fierce opposition from the political Right, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted a series of reforms that increased regulation of the financial sector, protected the rights of unions and created programs to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

After World War II, the federal government went even further, helping veterans get educated through the GI Bill, making mortgages affordable for new homes, connecting the nation through a system of modern highways, and investing in scientific research. Through these various reforms, the federal government not only advanced the “general Welfare” but, in effect, invented the Great American Middle Class.

Civil Rights

As the nation’s prosperity surged, attention also turned to addressing the shame of racial segregation. The civil rights movement led by remarkable leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and eventually embraced by Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson rallied popular support and the federal government finally moved against segregation across the South.

Yet, reflecting the old-time pro-slavery concerns of Patrick Henry and George Mason, southern white political leaders fumed at this latest intrusion by the federal government against the principle of “states’ rights,” i.e. the rights of the whites in southern states to treat “their coloreds” as they saw fit.

This white backlash to the federal activism against segregation became the energy driving the modern Republican Party, which abandoned its honorable legacy as the party that ended slavery. Instead, it became home for Americans who feared social change and resented policies that disproportionately helped racial minorities. The smartest right-wingers understood this reality.

On the need to keep blacks under white domination, urbane conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957 that “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, who wrote the influential manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, realized in 1961 that for Republicans to gain national power, they would have to pick off southern segregationists. Or as Goldwater put it, the Republican Party had to “go hunting where the ducks are.”

Then, there was Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of using coded language to appeal to southern whites and Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 national presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the notorious site of the murders of three civil rights workers. The two strands of historic conservatism, white supremacy and “small government” ideology, were again wound together.

In New York magazine, Frank Rich summed up this political history while noting how today’s right-wing revisionists have tried to reposition their heroes by saying they opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply out of high-minded “small-government principles.” But Rich wrote:

“The primacy of [Strom] Thurmond in the GOP’s racial realignment is the most incriminating truth the right keeps trying to cover up. That’s why the George W. Bush White House shoved the Mississippi senator Trent Lott out of his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 once news spread that Lott had told Thurmond’s 100th-birthday gathering that America ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems’ if the old Dixiecrat had been elected president in 1948.

“Lott, it soon became clear, had also lavished praise on [the Confederacy’s president] Jefferson Davis and associated for decades with other far-right groups in thrall to the old Confederate cause. But the GOP elites didn’t seem to mind until he committed the truly unpardonable sin of reminding America, if only for a moment, of the exact history his party most wanted and needed to suppress. Then he had to be shut down at once.”

Unholy Alliance

This unholy alliance between the racists and the corporatists continues to this day with Republicans understanding that the votes of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities must be suppressed if the twin goals of the two principal elements of the Right are to control the future. That was the significance of the 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority to gut the Voting Rights Act. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Supreme Court’s War on Democracy.”]

Only if the votes of whites can be proportionately enhanced and the votes of minorities minimized can the Republican Party overcome the country’s demographic changes and retain government power that will both advance the interests of the racists and the free-marketeers.

That’s why Republican-controlled statehouses engaged in aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010 and tried to impose “ballot security” measures across the country in 2012 and 2014. The crudity of those efforts, clumsily justified as needed to prevent the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, was embarrassing to watch.

As Frank Rich noted, “Everyone knows these laws are in response to the rise of Barack Obama. It is also no coincidence that many of them were conceived and promoted by the American Legal Exchange Council, an activist outfit funded by heavy-hitting right-wing donors like Charles and David Koch.

“In another coincidence that the GOP would like to flush down the memory hole, the Kochs’ father, Fred, a founder of the radical John Birch Society in the fifties, was an advocate for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren in the aftermath of Brown [v. Board of Education] Fred Koch wrote a screed of his own accusing communists of inspiring the civil-rights movement.”

Blaming the Democratic Party for ending segregation and coyly invited by opportunistic Republicans like Nixon and Reagan to switch party allegiances racist whites signed up with the Republican Party in droves. Thus, the Democratic Party, which since the days of Jefferson had been the party of slavery and segregation, lost its southern base, ceding it to the new Republican Party.

A Flip of Allegiance

This flip in the allegiance of America’s white supremacists from Democrat to Republican also put them in the same political structure as the anti-regulatory business interests which had dominated the Republican Party from the days of the Robber Barons. These two groups again found themselves sharing a common interest, the desire to constrain the federal government’s commitment to providing for “the general Welfare.”

To the corporate Republicans this meant slashing taxes, eliminating regulations and paring back social programs for the poor or in Ayn Rand vernacular the moochers. To the racist Republicans this meant giving the states greater leeway to suppress the votes of minorities and gutting programs that were seen as especially benefiting black and brown Americans, such as food stamps and health-care reform.

Thus, in today’s neo-Confederate era, the American Right is coalescing around two parallel ideological motives: continued racial resentment (against black and brown people getting welfare to the presence of a black family in the White House) and resistance to government regulations (from efforts to control Wall Street excesses to restrictions on global-warming emissions).

Though the white racist element of this coalition might typically be expected to proudly adopt the Stars and Bars of the Old Confederacy as its symbol, the modern Right is too media-savvy to get boxed into that distasteful imagery of slavery.

So, instead the Right has opted for a rebranding as Revolutionary War-era patriots calling themselves Tea Partiers, donning tri-corner hats and waving yellow banners with a coiled snake declaring “don’t tread on me.” Instead of overtly defending the Confederacy, the Right proclaims its commitment to the Founding Principles found in the Constitution.

But this sly transformation required the Right to rewrite the Founding Narrative, to blot out the initial interpretation of the Constitution by the Federalists who, after all, were the ones who primarily crafted the document, and to pretend that Jefferson’s revisionist view representing the pre-Confederate position of the southern plantation owners was the original one. [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Now this doctored history accepted by millions of Americans as true has become the driving force for what many pundits predict will be a “wave election” for the Republicans and the Right.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

29 comments for “Will the Right’s Fake History Prevail?

  1. November 8, 2014 at 16:03

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  2. Zachary Smith
    November 4, 2014 at 20:02

    I see some concern trolls have arrived. Example:

    I have tremendous respect for your work, but you are missing something crucial in your analysis of what motivates most Libertarian-inspired conservatives: it is fear of totalitarianism.

    To be more exact, ‘libertarians’ prefer to pick their own sort of totalitarianism. They don’t mind bullies and thugs, so long as THEY are the bullies and thugs. Naturally their definitions are carefully crafted to permit whatever goonish behavior THEY want to do. Consider a bunch in the western US.

    The Libertarian Party of Kansas thanks Governor Brownback, the Kansas Legislature, and the Kansas State Rifle Association for the passage of HB2578, which restores the right to openly carry firearms to all Kansans.

    Yes, a pack of smirking assholes who are openly carrying their penis extenders are just exercising their God Given Rights. Never mind that they terrorize just about everybody else.

    But talk about Civil Rights, or protecting children, or providing living wages, and they go ape****.

    I have some computer files which are strictly for reference. In order to easily locate them I use the prefix BS_. One is an entire book by the nutcase Murray Rothbard titled “The Ethics of Liberty”. It’s online – go locate it if you care to wade through sewage-level ethics.

    Another is “Defending the Undefendable” by Walter Block. Sample chapters of behavior which is Defended: Pimps. Drug Pushers. Blackmailers. People who yell fire in a crowded theater. Dishonest cops. Non-government counterfeiters. Strip-miners. Litterers. Employers of Child Labor.

    No, I’m not making this up. The book is copyrighted 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    Anything the ‘libertarians’ don’t like is evil. Everything else is A-OK with these cretins.

    The people who created and coddle the ‘libertarians’ aren’t stupid. They’ve bought themselves some very devout and tireless workers for a song. But the scheme didn’t work very well for a long time. The ‘libertarians’ polled anywhere from 1/2 to 2% when elections rolled around. So the moneybags devised a new strategy. “Stealth” libertarianism. Create some politicians who pretend to be of a mainstream party, but whose careers were funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers.

    But bad news is that the new strategy worked to perfection. My state of Indiana is now rid of the little bald-headed ***** Mitch Daniels, but probably only temporarily. He’s now perched at Purdue University slowly destroying that institution in the same fashion termites destroy buildings. Come 2016, he, or some other stealth ‘libertarian’ may well run against Hillary. My guess is that the stealth guy or gal will win. As I’ve written elsewhere, when approximately 100% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats hate her guts, whoever is running against her is sitting pretty.

    The US Army is well on its way to total privatization. Already Halliburton handles logistics and supply for a mere ten times as much as these functions used to cost. Mercenary troops used as part-timers are replacing the fighting forces at much greater costs.

    NASA has been handing over the crown jewels of it’s technology and other resources for some time.

    When I learned National Intelligence had been privatized, I knew the stealth boys had almost won. I really can’t imagine doing anything more stupid than that, but then I’ve not got the greatest imagination. I’m fairly sure President “Our Man Mitch” could do something even worse. I suspect an early agenda would be to privatize the Interstate Highways – the little weasel DID sell the Indiana Toll Road. And I hear there may be two brand new Toll bridges at Louisville. Lord only knows what else he would do!

    But back to Robert Parry. As I see it, he’s under no obligation whatever to pander to the loony libertarians. There really is a lot to be said for living in and writing about the Real World instead of one where Unicorns Are Real.

  3. P Canon
    November 4, 2014 at 07:59

    I have to start by saying I am a fan of your work. However, I would just like to echo Betio’s comments above and add a few points. One is that Libertarian websites strongly and consistently oppose US imperialism. They oppose corruption at all levels of government. The oppose the growing police state. They write regularly about financial corruption. Unfortunately, most US writers on the left, who are publishing in alternative media, are now simply parroting establishment propaganda. For the most part, the American left is failing us. Because of their big sellout on key issues like Ukraine and Russia, and because of their strident denial of US government crime at home (such as 9/11), their critique of Libertarian-leaning conservatives lacks any credibility. The Libertarians tell the truth; the left dissembles. I am 62 and have been a progressive all my life, but I do not see the left offering us any alternatives. They offer us loyalty to a large, corrupt and increasingly oppressive federal government and try to package it as “in our best interests”. Libertarians, on the other hand, offer us hope for change. They are winning for a reason.

  4. P Canon
    November 4, 2014 at 07:58

    I have to start by saying I am a fan of your work. However, I would just like to echo Betio’s comments above and add a few points. One is that Libertarian websites strongly and consistently oppose US imperialism. They oppose corruption at all levels of government. The oppose the growing police state. They write regularly about financial corruption. Unfortunately, most US writers on the left, who are publishing in alternative media, are now simply parroting establishment propaganda. For the most part, the American left is failing us. Because of their big sellout on key issues like Ukraine and Russia, and because of their strident denial of US government crime at home (such as 9/11), their critique of Libertarian-leaning conservatives lacks any credibility. The Libertarians tell the truth; the left dissembles. I am 62 and have been a progressive all my life, but I do not see the left offering us any alternatives. They offer us loyalty to a large, corrupt and increasingly oppressive federal government and try to package it as “in our best interests”. Libertarians, on the other hand, offer us hope for change. They are winning for a reason.

  5. P Canon
    November 4, 2014 at 07:17

    I would like to echo Betio’s comment above. I have tremendous respect for your work, but you are missing something crucial in your analysis of what motivates most Libertarian-inspired conservatives: it is fear of totalitarianism. If you regularly peruse such websites, which I have done for about a decade now, you will discover they do not like the republicans any more than democrats. They feel both parties have converged around the idea of bringing down democracy and replacing it with a dictatorial monstrosity. It has surprised me to learn that Libertarian websites are consistently against US imperialism, while my friends on the left have been brought under the spell of US/NATO anti-Russia propaganda. The American political landscape is in flux. Because of this, the left critique of Libertarianism has lost all credibility. We need to unite together and stop the infighting. This is the only way to bring real change to America.

  6. Zachary Smith
    November 4, 2014 at 00:11

    Fascinating synthesis of ideas!

  7. Beatio
    November 3, 2014 at 16:43

    I am somewhat puzzled and disappointed by this read. Most of your articles are brilliant — I’m really a huge fan of your work and have shared more than 80% of the articles I’ve come across on this site — but it seems you strangely ignore the real elephant in the room, which is Big Government. The kind of centralized, totalitarian-leaning corporatism/fascism form of government that we’re increasingly seeing across much of the Western world today is very much the product of cronyism enabled through the marrying of big government and big business interests. This is what scares most Tea Partiers that I’ve come across — the tyranny of Big Gov & Big Biz. I can think of no greater exponent of that tyranny than the Washington, Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and the grandfather of this whole thing, the Federal Reserve. This factor is so massive and has been escalating to such a degree in recent years that I find its total absence in this piece very strange indeed.

  8. Vixpix1
    November 2, 2014 at 14:30

    Excellent article, explaining and giving the historical context as to why so many whites vote against their own economic interests. This is the single most important factor in American politics. I had understood that this was an expression of our countries bone deep racism, but this article cites chapter and verse how this came to be. It is a tragic reality that colonial slavery has morphed into the modern racism that blights a large range of issues in American politics, including an attempt to restore some type of federalism that may have made sense centuries ago when America was a sparsely populated, largely agricultural country, but makes as much sense today as applying leeches to your body to cure your ill humors.

  9. Andre Minuth
    November 2, 2014 at 10:10

    Few people alive have ever heard Martin Luther King’s full speech. Why don’t you run it at every of his birth day’s and spare us the interpretations?

    November 2, 2014 at 09:42

    Brilliant article, but the rebellion was not about defending southern slavery. The confederate war was a war against the free institutions of the American republic. An astute English observer, J.E. Cairnes, wrote in his 1862 book “The Slave Power … An Attempt to Explain the Real Issues Involved in the American Contest”: “As for slavery, it was little more than a pretext for both sides, employed by the leaders of the South to arouse the fears and hopes of the slaveholders, and by the North in the hope of attracting the sympathies of Europe and hallowing a cause which was essentially destitute of noble aims.”

    The southern oligarchy had never accepted democracy either in theory or in practice. They kept Lincoln’s name off the ballot in nine of the future insurgent states, and though they still controlled the federal Congress and the Supreme Court, they used his election as the pretext to put their long-planned assault on the national government into action. Their leaders initially conspired to seize the city of Washington and remove the loyal members of the government. They also threatened to collapse the U.S. economy by defaulting on almost half a billion dollars in loans and cotton crop futures owed to northern businesses. Only after they realized their coup attempt would be immediately crushed did the conspirators resort to the quasi-legal trumpery of secession to undo the result of the election the lawful election they had been unable to sabotage.

    The national government was rife with southern traitors. The southern-born Secretary of the Navy dispatched America’s warships off on distant foreign cruises where they could not easily be recalled to defend the government. The Virginian who was Secretary of War stripped northern armories of weapons, ordering 135,000 modern percussion muskets shipped to southern arsenals in 1860 alone. Even the slaveholders’ pawn Buchanan feared he would be assassinated in his final months as President if he dared to uphold his oath of office.

    By provoking the radicals into starting the shooting war Lincoln denied them the opportunity to build a strong military for the war with the United States for possession of the western territories that would have inevitably followed. The exclusive use of these new lands for the expansion of slavery -against the will of the great majority of Americans – was the decisive issue that led to rebellion. There was no meaningful threat to “slavery as it was” in 1860. The abolitionist movement peaked in the 1840s and had suffered nothing but political defeats throughout the 1850s, but its isolated firebrands provided a convenient imaginary enemy, like today’s “terrorists”, to suppress dissent and command obedience among increasingly restive southerners.

    The rosy myth of the lost cause also ignores the widespread, probably majority, anti-secession feeling at the south and its ruthless suppression by state-sponsored terrorism in 1860-61 and the enormous armed counterinsurgency of 1862-65 against the Richmond regime – and the fact that 1 out of 8 white southerners fled to the free states, and that 2/3rds of the rebel army deserted “the rich war’s war” they were forced to fight. The confederate “Home Guard” functioned like the Gestapo, summarily executing dissidents and deserters, torturing and murdering their family members to disclose their whereabouts.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 3, 2014 at 14:18

      HISTORICVS, I really enjoyed your telling the untold version of the Civil War history. All to often history telling leaves out the type of events, as you have mentioned here.

      When it comes to America’s memories of that God awful Civil War, I cannot help but think of such things as; DW Griffiths ‘the Birth of a Nation’ film. Or how about the epic movie ‘Gone with the Wind’. It amazes me that some 50 years to under 100 years after the Civil War that the rewriting of that war, was underway…big time! So much so, that the whole nation was to sympathize with the southern cause. Of course this sympathy for the south was aimed at white audiences for the most part. Yet, still there was no mention of history as you brought up here in your comment. In fact, ‘Birth of a Nation’ belittled black people, and excluding a hand full of movie markets, this played out well in American theaters. I bring these movies up, because I believe much of what we think about the Civil War has been born by some of what I have mentioned here.

      Great history telling. Keep it up.
      Joe Tedesky

    • Zachary Smith
      November 4, 2014 at 00:23

      Interesting post with many excellent points. My main quibble is to call J.E. Cairnes “astute”.

      I dug out his book at Google Books and read the introduction. “Clueless” would have been my choice of words for him.

      My understanding of the Civil War is still evolving, but I’ve come to believe the average Northern citizen was becoming afraid of slavery. It threatened them at every level, for the 1860 equivalent of the loony tea bag party was beginning to speak of White Slavery as a good idea. The “recapture” raids into the north had the possibility of taking back south not only runaways, but free citizens of all colors.

      Finally, it was merely a matter of time before the Southern slavers started to operate factories in direct competition with the free labor in the north. IMO it was just a matter of time.

      I don’t believe that as a whole the North was any more moral than the South – the cynical abandonment of the Blacks after the war really did happen. But I do think they were better informed about the threat of slavery. A free press hadn’t existed in the South for quite a long time. Publishing the wrong things down in Dixie Land could get a person killed in a hurry.

  11. Thomas Howard
    November 2, 2014 at 04:59

    If the Civil War was about abolishing slavery…
    Why did the emancipation proclamation not apply to the Union States, but only to the Confederate States?
    Why is there a West Virginia separate from Virginia?
    Why was slavery still legal in Confederate States… if the Union controlled the territory?
    Either your history or honesty needs attention.

    • Yaj
      November 2, 2014 at 13:56

      Look into how laws be passed in state legislatures and in the federal congress.

      • Thomas Howard
        November 2, 2014 at 17:49

        The Emancipation Proclamation was not a law ‘passed’ by any Congress or Legislature… Lincoln, with a stroke of a pen, instantly made what was legal illegal… and yet it only applied to the Confederate States…because the Union could still legally keep their niggers as slaves.

        How does the Union fight to end slavery when the same Union protects their own right to own slaves?

        • powhatan
          November 3, 2014 at 17:01

          Between 1777 and 1804, anti-slavery laws or constitutions were passed in every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line.

          • Thomas Howard
            November 5, 2014 at 15:51

            Read the Emancipation Proclamation…Honest Abe had no problem with slavery…He had a problem with FREEDOM of the Confederate States.

        • Yaj
          November 3, 2014 at 20:30


          You missed the point completely.

          Do you really think that the South Carolina legislature was going to emancipate the slaves in say 1863?

          You seem to.

          Do you really think Lincoln could get a bill doing so thru Congress?

          You seem to.

          • Thomas Howard
            November 5, 2014 at 15:40

            My point was that the Civil War was not fought to abolish slavery…it is a lie…a fake history.

  12. James Madison
    November 1, 2014 at 23:43

    The size of the federal government remained at about 2% of GDP in peacetime from the time of the Founders until 1913. In wartime it was about 4% excepting the Civil War. Today our federal government is 25% of GDP. Yes, the Tea Party is correct, the Founders wanted a smaller federal government with more federalism.

    • Yaj
      November 2, 2014 at 13:55

      Then please stop using the internet and the interstate highway system, also don’t use airports, and shipping ports.

      Or Medicare, even if you paid into it, or Social Security.

      And if you must drink city water, make sure it’s full of sewage before imbibing.

      There are lots of other bigger government things you be using everyday, so when you’ll give up all those things, you can have your 2 percent.

      And this means you personally give up, not someone else give up a government program that you happen to not be directly connected to.

      • November 2, 2014 at 18:26

        All these fed gov programs are backed by over 100 trillion in internal and external debt. The real number is probably twice that much. If you play it safe you will not depend on the fed gov for anything. Unplug from the bankrupt system any way you can . That is true freedom. So called entitlements are true slavery. All by design of TPTB.

      • Ilene
        November 3, 2014 at 01:52


      • vonmises1881
        November 3, 2014 at 13:08

        Yaj, is your point that ports, airports, roads, drinking water systems, etc. are only attainable through a central government? The internet? Really? Local government or the private sector are unable to bring these things to the market? What about shoes? We all need them so how can we trust anyone but the State to design, produce, and sell us shoes? What if I go into a “private shoe seller” gasp! and they sell me two left footed shoes? Then what? No, regulation and/or complete control of shoe sales by the government is what’s needed. As for Social Security/Medicare that’s the oldest dodge in the book. Of course everyone should take the benefits. We were all forced, yes forced, to pay into the program so we should all take back some of the money that was forcibly taken from us. Leaving our money in the system isn’t even altruistic as it is only furthering the ability of the scheme to continue by using our benefits to further fund the program’s administration. If someone steals my car is it not my right to take it back?

      • Yaj
        November 3, 2014 at 17:39


        Please stop using the internet, then you can complain about debt.

        And the 100 trillion number is made up.

        • Yaj
          November 3, 2014 at 20:22


          The trade you propose makes no sense.

          I never claimed private companies don’t produce things.

          It’s you all who are on about the government doing nothing.

          So again please stop using the internet.

          Since i’s creation is most certainly 100 percent government programs and contracts.

          You’ve confused implementation with thinking the thing up and getting it to work correctly.

          Also please don’t use any highway or a car with any kind of safety device; Model T for you.

          Except the industrial production techniques of the Model T are also a government program starting in the 1880s. So no mass produced consumer goods for you.

          Buy any custom car, or hand built refrigerator, you please.

      • Yaj
        November 3, 2014 at 17:42

        No vonmises,

        I did not say that only government can provide these things, I listed things created by the government.

        Propose another method that will work and I’m listening.

        The fact remains that private enterprise is disastrous at programs lasting more than a few years.

        And while you’re writing up your proposal, skip using the interwebs.

        • vonmises1881
          November 3, 2014 at 18:36

          If we’re going to do hyperbole let’s do it. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll quit using the internet (giving you full credit by saying the itnernet is 100% State created) if you quit using cars, food, clothing, shelter, and tell everyone in working in the private sector that they no longer have a job.

    • HWill the Right’s Fake History Prevail?
      November 2, 2014 at 21:02

      Will the Right’s Fake History Prevail?
      Hillary on November 2, 2014 at 8:26 am said:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Now this doctored history – accepted by millions of Americans as true – has become the driving force for what many pundits predict will be a “wave election” for the Republicans and the Right.
      Is Mr Parry suggesting that the attack on 11 Sept 2001 was a turning ” doctored” event which became a driving force ?

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