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The War Nerd / April 3, 2011

Thaddeus Stevens: Weird-looking, huh? That’s because he was a real American. Extinct now.

Looks like they’re starting to find the mass graves in Ivory Coast right on schedule, but I’m going to leave the hard war news for the five weekday blogs. Weekends are for digressin’ and avengin’.

Today I want to do a little of both by quoting something amazing I found rereading a classic one-volume history of the Civil War, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom.

If you don’t know anything about the Civil War, McPherson’s book is a good place to start…although that raises kind of a more urgent type question, i.e.: If you don’t know anything about the Civil War, what the Hell’s wrong with you?
He’s especially good about the buildup, the incredible concessions the North made, all but grovelling to the plantation-massa lunatics who ruled the South and had been intimidating the North for decades, basically threatening to jump off a cliff and take the rest of the country with them if anybody even dared to maybe suggest that the whole slave economy thing was a bad idea and wasn’t doing our image any good.

I guess my own attitude is probably clear by now, but in case there’s any doubt I’ll tell you plain: I’m a Union man and a serious militarist about it. Sherman was just getting warmed up as far as I’m concerned. In fact when I read about how shocked the people of Columbia, SC, were that he burned half their town I have to laugh. Americans need to get out more, especially Southerners. If they had any notion of what the province that talked all the others into a dimwitted, doomed rebellion would’ve had in store for it anywhere else in the world, they would’ve thanked Sherman’s bummers on their knees for being so lenient. Sherman’s way of making war was so mild by world standards that if a panel of military CEOs from all of history had watched him march through Georgia and the Carolinas, there’d have been some serious tsk-ing about what a wuss he was. The consensus by all those Roman, British and Mongol ghosts would have been that the North should have expelled the whole white population of the South like the Brits did the Acadians—a way more harmless bunch—or sold them into slavery in West Africa, a nice bit of poetic justice. “How much am I bid for this fine specimen of Tideland gentry, ladies and paramount chiefs?”

The US benefited just from having four years when those jerks weren’t part of American politics. That’s what most surprised me when I went over McPherson’s book: how damn generous Northern law got as soon as the damn Planters were taken out of the political system. When you hear all these neocons talking about Lincoln’s administration as evil and totalitarian, what they mean is that without having to cave to the slave-owning loonies down south, Northern law started showing this incredible respect for the working people. Seriously, the laws they were enacting then would get Rush, Sean and Glenn screaming about Communism today. Take the Internal Revenue Act of 1862; it wouldn’t have a chance of passing today, because it’s way too sympathetic to the working people and doesn’t suck up to the super rich the way we do today. It was one of those laws made by the radical Republicans, back when “radical Republican” meant you wanted ex-slaves to have land to work and the right to vote, crazy socialistic stuff like that. Here’s McPherson’s summary of the new law:

“The Internal Revenue Act…expanded the progressive aspects…by exempting the first $600, levying three percent on incomes between $600 and $10,000, and five percent on incomes over $10,000. The first $1000 of any legacy was exempt from the inheritance tax. Businesses worth less than $600 were exempt from the value-added and receipts taxes. Excise taxes fell most heavily on products purchased by the affluent. In explanation of these progressive features, Chairman Thaddeus Stevens of the House Ways and Means Committee said, ‘While the rich and the thrifty will be obliged to contribute largely from the abundance of their means…no burdens have been imposed on the industrious laborer and mechanic…The food of the poor is untaxed; and…no one will be affected by the provisions of this bill whose living depends solely on his manual labor.’”

Incredible, isn’t it? That’s a congressman from 1862 talking. He couldn’t be elected now; they’d call him a commie and he’d be lucky to stay out of jail. Why, he doesn’t even suck up to the super-rich, the freak. That’s what America was like for a little while when the crazy white South went off on its big tantrum. Just imagine what the place could have been like if they’d stayed gone. Actually, you don’t have to imagine, because Grant laid out what would have happened to the two parts of the Union with his standard cold hard sense:

“The South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. [The North] had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. [The South] was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost.”

Sounds like a happy ending to me. Too bad we spent all that blood and treasure dragging them back into the family. Might as well lose an arm or a leg dragging your crazy bipolar brother-in-law back. In fact, I agree with every word Grant says there, up to the “but” in the last sentence. Good policy, probably: believe everything up to the “but.”

Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to brecher@exiledonline.com. Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.

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106 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Hazard Circular  |  April 11th, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Was slavery really abolished? Has it ever been? Will it ever be? I could spent time writing a long bit on this topic, but I’ll just toss out one interesting term. “Wage slave.”

    Of these I am one, since I couldn’t build a home upon my own land, like the real Americans of old, who might begin with a one room shack, and then enlarge and add on year by year, as funds allowed. No. I couldn’t build a simple, mostly water-tight home like Lincoln’s birthplace, etc. We must build to “code,” which means spending a LOT of money which we don’t have because we’re paying rent. Why? Why can’t I live in a shack? Maybe because the shack can’t be sold when they take it away from you.

    So it’s a shopping we must go… shopping for a mortgage. But oh, look: you generally need a JOB to get one, so I took a job. And I got a mortgage. And the interest. So now I’ll pay much, MUCH more than the money I borrowed to buy the home built to “code.”

    But who really cares because in the long run we’ll all be dead. And “Dancing With The Stars” in showing on the telvitz box.

    Have a nice day all you liberals, conned-servatives, unprincipled libertarians, and other flotsam and jetsam on the national “see.”

  • 2. freeman  |  April 12th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    BRAVO! Out of all of these posters someone finally noticed! 100% correct! The slaves in the south were “freed” as the result of the war. One single man could no longer be owned by another in this country (or rather, that became law after the war was over, took awhile for the northern slave states to get the word). HOWEVER, that was a very visible turning point where the people of this country -black, white, red, etc- became slaves of the state…a state which -during said war- left no question of limits on it’s own power (as listed in the Constitution that defines the government) or inalienable “rights” (as enumerated in the Bill of Rights). It showed very clearly that it would do whatever those in office wanted to do (or rather, what their big-money backers wanted them to do) and would pretty it up after the fact. Feel any better being the slave of a group of bureaucrats? Does it really make a difference if they have a little D or R or even C next to their name? At least if an individual has you enslaved, you can knock him off and escape…possibly making your way to someplace that doesn’t allow such a disgusting practice. Can’t do that if you’re a slave to a government that treats you like livestock, with every action regulated and requiring a permit and you having to pay a very significant percentage of your labor for the privilege of taking care of yourself by working for your living, for owning transportation, for owning property, and for doing almost anything you can name….Of course, they peddle the line that they’re essential for you to do these things, but it’s nothing more than a con that they run for very obvious reasons. The day people wake up is the day that the unspeakably incompetent clowns in office have to work for a living (if they’re lucky).

  • 3. eudaimonic  |  April 15th, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Ok, let’s go to the primary documents and see what secessionists, in their own words, declared were their reasons for secession, shall we?

    Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas’ declarations of secession, on one handy text-searchable page:
    http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html

    Number of times the documents use the word “tariffs” – 0
    “tax” – 1, in reference to the fact that slaves were actually taxed as 3/5s of a person.
    “slave” – Too many to count. No really, I’m too lazy to count because they litter the documents from beginning to end.

    The southern whites were slaveholding bastards and stupid white trash that were duped into defending slaveholding bastards (or in some cases fighting to make sure that the darkies were kept in their place so there’d at least be someone below them in the class heirarchy). All it takes is for us to read what the southern whites themselves wrote were their justification to come to this conclusion.

  • 4. freeman  |  April 15th, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Well, that’s 4 states out of how many?
    Did the south’s declaration of secession occur when lincoln declared that the slaves must be freed?
    No, it occured when he doubled the tarrif.
    When did the NORTHERN slaveholding states free their slaves?
    Was it prior to the war?
    No, it was after the war was over (the emancipation proclamation only applied to the southern states).
    Was the motto of the Union army “free the slaves”?
    No, it was “preserve the Union”.
    Was lincoln a fan of abolition of slavery?
    No, in fact he came very close to having the institution of slavery written into the Constitution. (from a speech in NYCity: “we have abolitionists in Illinois; we shot one the other day.” Plenty more out there on lincoln’s real stand on slavery and the black issue…also in his own words.)
    Was the north so moral that it simply couldn’t abide slavery?
    No, more than one northern state was a slaveholding state and -again- they had no issue with committing genocide against the native American indians.
    (In fact Grant himself was a major slave owner with over 800 slaves that he didn’t free until after the war was over and the 13th amendment forced him to do so. Lee did not own slaves and, when he inherited slaves, he freed them. Davis had a black foster son that he raised as his own. His foster child was taken by Union soldiers and they never returned him to his family.)
    Were northerners big fans of diversity and equality?
    No, more than one northern state allowed slavery, in others, free blacks were not allowed at all, were not allowed to live around whites, and were not allowed to testify in court.
    In the south, free blacks were often allowed to live where they wanted, work at whatever jobs they wanted (getting paid what their labor was worth, often more than that of their less capable white coworkers), and were allowed to testify in court. Again, look up April William Ellison, a free black who was extremely successful, who lived next to white aristocrats, had a front pew in a white church, and who took white men to court and won numerous times…so which side demonstrated more color-based prejudice than the other? The one that had blacks cooking their food, raising their children, and living, working, and going to church among them? or the one that didn’t allow blacks at all?
    (Note that -by our standards- virtually everyone in the country was prejudiced.)

    No, the slavery issue was an after-the-fact way to whitewash the real reason for the the war being started -money- and the fact that the limits of government under the Constitution were overturned by the powers-that-be in the name of taking money from one group and distributing it to another. Something that continues to this day.

    (Note: I scoffed at this myself when I was first exposed to it. Then, after going to original sources and getting the WHOLE story, I had to change my mind. Too much evidence to ignore unless your mind is made up and you don’t want to be confused with facts. That and if you’re just prejudiced against people who live somewhere else or have a different heritage. BTW, that’s called bigotry. No, there’s very good reason to question the “accepted” story. And good reason to be po’ed, both about being lied to and the reasons for those lies.)

  • 5. Tom  |  September 1st, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Yes, those horrible southern people (moron). Imagine, where did they get their insurance for the slave ships? Lloyds of London. And where did they get their insurance for the slaves? From the insurance companies up north in New York (and also Baltimore, which is in the south in case you didn’t know, but which was part of the union and had slaves (also Delaware, etc. etc.). Its always fun when dysfunctional people try to write about history and input their ideology on history. Its almost as dumb as thinking that voting for a certain candidate would somehow get the U.S. to bring home our troops. Haha! The big O just signed off on keeping our troops in Afghanistan until 2024. Great job! Whoo hoo, now THAT is anti-war. Bombing Libya, we’re still in Iraq, pushing the war into Pakistan with drone attacks and special forces, and now 6,000 U.S. Marines sitting off the coast of Syria. Way to go you guys!
    I wonder what Ron Paul would think about that? Thats ok, you just keep pulling the wool over your eyes.

  • 6. Rudy  |  September 17th, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    “When you hear all these neocons talking about Lincoln’s administration as evil and totalitarian”. I am not an American, but the neoconservatives I have heard of (those who write for national newspapers) often seem to hold a generally positive view of Lincoln. If I am not mistaken, non-neoconservative conservatives (Ron Paul, Buchanan) are more likely to have southern centric views of history.


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