The North may have won the military conflict, but the oligarchic ideology was not stamped out. Richardson argues compellingly that instead it transformed and migrated.
Former Confederates founded the Ku Klux Klan, engaging in guerrilla attacks to resist Northern rule. Others moved westward, where Westerners had created a racial hierarchy in the midst of expansion.
White Americans seized land from Mexican ranchers, passed laws to restrict the number of Chinese immigrants coming to the West Coast, and waged brutal wars against the Native Americans inhabiting the Great Plains.
What emerged in the West over the course of 1860s and 1870s was the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few ranchers and industrialists, and the rejection of Lincoln’s concept of a government dedicated to equality for all.
Over time, Richardson writes, the South and the West formed a political coalition that would continue into the twentieth century.
While cowboys moved west, Southern Democrats passed legislation to limit the voting capabilities of former black slaves following Reconstruction. Former Confederate politicians, such as the Confederacy’s Vice President Alexander Stephens, were elected to serve in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but Southern Democrats fought the integration of former slaves into society. Playing on the fear generated by the rise of a thinker named Karl Marx, the Democrats warned that handouts to black laborers would lead to a socialist state; instead, Southern Democrats argued, the government should move to protect the freedom and individual rights of white workers.
Lauding the white American cowboy as an emblematic of real American freedom—rather than a government that enforced equality—Southern Democrats found eager supporters in the West.
The role of the federal government
One of Richardson’s strongest arguments is that the oligarchic ideology transitioned from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt marshalled this coalition of the South and West to win the 1932 election, but designed his New Deal with anti-oligarchic belief that the best way to guarantee the promises of the Constitution was to work for economic equality.
Such a philosophy was of a piece with Lincoln’s vision for the country, but Republicans balked at the intrusiveness of the New Deal into individual lives. It was this moment, Richardson argues, that marked the introduction of the oligarchic ideology into the Republican Party’s identity.
As Democrats continued to use government power to expand rights to the disenfranchised, Republicans began to split between those who accepted Roosevelt’s liberal worldview and those who wanted to undo the social safety nets that he had created.
A final break came when Presidents Truman and Eisenhower used the powers of the federal government to desegregate schools. Feeling betrayed, radical Republicans turned to a new leader, someone who would advocate for a limited federal government: Barry Goldwater.
Goldwater was the figure who most cemented the oligarchical ideology in the Republican Party.
His self-depiction as a cowboy crusading against the federal government garnered much support in the South, and he campaigned against desegregation enforcement as an unjust intervention by the federal government in states’ affairs.
Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond, who advocated for segregation and was a staunch opponent to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, openly switched their party affiliation to Republican. For the first time in almost a century, the South started voting consistently with the GOP.
Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan continued in the tradition that Goldwater established, implementing policies like the war on drugs that kept a permanent underclass based on racial discrimination. (Reagan even copied Goldwater’s cowboy image.)
By the time Reagan was arguing that government is “the problem,” he had brought back to life the rhetoric used by many Southern Democrats against Lincoln’s Republicans in the election of 1860: that government enforcement of rights for more Americans risked infringing on individual freedoms.
Today, Richardson argues, Republican efforts to curtail the role of the federal government with the removal of federal economic and environmental regulations can resemble the machinations of the Southern Confederates on the eve of the Civil War, and Donald Trump’s presidency continues the oligarchic tradition, openly embracing racism and elite rule.
Richardson’s book is a well-examined history of ideas and the power of political ideologies.
The book lays out a convincing case that despite its victory in the Civil War, the North failed to deliver the killing blow to a Confederate oligarchic ideology, which lived on into the formation of the Republican Party we know today.
But the book’s major flaw is its assessment of race and racism in the North.
While Richardson clearly and correctly juxtaposes the democratic North and the oligarchic South, she does not give adequate attention to the racial inequality that existed in the North.
The North may have abolished slavery earlier than the South did, but it was not the equitable society she sometimes seems to describe. Richardson oversimplifies the history of racism in the North to focus on an argument about the rise of the modern GOP.
But in making this contrast too starkly, she sacrifices a nuanced discussion of racism in the North, a legacy still very much relevant to discussions of racial justice today.
Despite this omission, How the South Won the Civil War offers valuable insight into the past as well as the present. While oligarchic thinking appears to be on the rise, there is still time for action.
For Richardson, acknowledging why the South won the Civil War is the first step in addressing issues at the heart of the American identity, and providing, as Lincoln once said, “a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
How the South Won the Civil War
Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America
RETHINKING 4TH OF JULY WITH HISTORICAL TRUTHS
Above: Boston Massacre showing the death of the first casualty, Crispus Attucks. In reality, the vast majority of Africans in America fought against the revolution seeking to end their enslavement.
Note: This article was originally published on July 3, 2018. KZ
In Portland, Oregon, where I live, the Fourth of July holiday offers an excuse for a wonderful annual blues festival downtown in Waterfront Park. Unfortunately, in my neighborhood, it also provides cover for people to blow off fireworks that terrify young children and animals and turn the air thick with smoke and errant projectiles. Last year the fire department here reported 35 fires sparked by toy missiles, defective firecrackers, and other items of explosive revelry. The Washington State Department of Ecology warns:
Breathing fine particles in fireworks smoke can cause or contribute to serious short- or long-term health problems. They include:
- Risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Lung inflammation.
- Reduced lung function.
- Asthma-like symptoms.
- Asthma attacks.
A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a US drone and reading ” Why did you kill my family” on December 13, 2013 in the capital Sanaa. A drone strike on a wedding convoy in Yemen killed 17 people, mostly civilians, medical and security sources said, adding grist to mounting criticism of the US drone war. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Apart from the noise pollution, air pollution, and flying-debris pollution, there is something profoundly inappropriate about blowing off fireworks at a time when the United States is waging war with real fireworks around the world. To cite just one example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that since November 2001, U.S. drone attacks have killed at least 2,600 people in five countries, including as many as 247 children.
And, of course, the Iraq war, which began with the deadly U.S. fireworks of “shock and awe” bombardment in 2003, has morphed into seemingly endless internecine fighting and, according to the United Nations, the creation of more than a million refugees just this year. The pretend war of celebratory fireworks thus becomes part of a propaganda campaign that inures us — especially the children among us — to current and future wars half a world away.
But the yahoo of fireworks also turns an immensely complicated time in U.S. history into a cartoon of miseducation. For example, check out Ray Raphael’s “Re-examining the Revolution” at the Zinn Education Project, an article that every history teacher should read before wading into the events leading up to 1776. Raphael analyzed 22 elementary-school, middle-school, and high-school texts and found them filled with inaccuracies — some merely silly, but others leaving students with important misunderstandings about U.S. history and how social change does and does not happen.
Raphael offers some context for the Declaration of Independence:
In 1997, Pauline Maier published American Scripture, where she uncovered 90 state and local “declarations of independence” that preceded the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The consequence of this historical tidbit is profound: Jefferson was not a lonely genius conjuring his notions from the ether; he was part of a nationwide political upheaval.
Similarly, Raphael reports:
[I]n 1774 common farmers and artisans from throughout Massachusetts rose up by the thousands and overthrew all British authority. In the small town of Worcester (only 300 voters), 4,622 militiamen from 37 surrounding communities lined both sides of Main Street and forced British-appointed officials to walk the gauntlet, hats in hand, reciting their recantations 30 times each so everyone could hear. There were no famous “leaders” for this event. The people elected representatives who served for one day only, the ultimate in term limits. “The body of the people” made decisions and the people decided that the old regime must fall.
Raphael concludes, “Textbook authors and popular history writers fail to portray the great mass of humanity as active players, agents on their own behalf.” Instead, textbooks credit Great Men — Washington, Franklin, Jefferson — and render all others as “mere followers.”
And there is a lot more that complicates the events surrounding the Fourth of July and the Revolutionary War. Raphael notes:
Not one of the elementary or middle school texts [I reviewed] even mentions the genocidal Sullivan campaign, one of the largest military offensives of the war, which burned Iroquois villages and destroyed every orchard and farm in its path to deny food to Indians.
For use with students, see “George Washington: An American Hero?” in Rethinking Columbus, published by Rethinking Schools. In an excerpt included inRethinking Columbus, Washington wrote to Gen. John Sullivan on May 31, 1779:
The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. …
[P]arties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.
Those are the orders of a war criminal.
Nor do texts mention the indigenous resistance movements of the 1780s in response to American “settler” expansion, which Raphael calls “the largest coalitions of Native Americans in our history.”
Frederick Douglass circa 1855
On a recent episode of Democracy Now!, Gerald Horne, author of The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, points out that more enslaved Africans in the American colonies fought with the British than with the American colonists. Horne told Democracy Now!hosts Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman, “It makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved.”
Included at the Zinn Education Project site is a link to a video of Danny Glover performing one of history’s most passionate denunciations of U.S. racism and hypocrisy, Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” at one of Howard Zinn’s remarkable “The People Speak” events. Douglass delivered the speech on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, at a Declaration of Independence commemoration:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Douglass delivered his speech four years after the United States finished its war against Mexico to steal land and spread slavery, five years before the vicious Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, and nine years before the country would explode into civil war. His words call out through the generations to abandon the empty “shout of liberty and equality” on July 4, and to put away the fireworks and flags.
In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the Zinn Education Project urges teachers to use July 4 as a time to rethink how we equip students to reflect on the complicated birth of the United States of America.
Bill Bigelow taught high-school social studies in Portland, Oregon, for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This blog post is part of the Zinn Education Project’s “If We Knew Our History” series.