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.”
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