The ushering-out of the Peculiar Institution.Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By RICHARD STRINER
Leonard L. Richards, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), has given us a compelling and multi-faceted account of how the antislavery movement achieved its definitive triumph in the form of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Like any historical account, Who Freed the Slaves? presents interpretations that examine certain points of view at the expense of others. This is, of course, a problem inherent in historical studies. But to his credit, Richards has produced a very rich account—a veritable gold mine of information—that consists of many overlapping stories: stories of how the overall strategies of different kinds of slavery opponents developed; stories of how different individuals, groups, and key episodes played out as the violent struggle over slavery in America unfolded.
Spectacular transformations accompanied the struggle: Some advocates of slavery found themselves performing a gradual (or sudden) about-face as they came to loathe the institution—or else oppose it for opportunistic reasons of their own—and some white supremacists discovered that their bigotry was ill-grounded. Alliances shifted and broke apart, erstwhile enemies became the unlikeliest of allies, and so forth.
Impressions of a great many admirable, hideous, and ambiguous personalities leap from these pages: John J. Crittenden, the stubborn pro-slavery senator from Kentucky; the quirky political general Benjamin Butler; Frederick Douglass, the fearless black abolitionist; Lorenzo Thomas, a brigadier general given plenipotentiary powers to recruit black troops and who threatened to throw out of the Army any racist officers who opposed him; the cantankerous and deeply racist Blair family of Maryland and Missouri, who were opposed to the spread of slavery; August Belmont, the pro-slavery financier, Manhattan socialite, and Democratic party leader; key Radical Republicans; members of the Lincoln cabinet; and Abraham Lincoln himself.
Most of all, however, Richards chose to weave his account around Representative James Ashley of Ohio, the Radical Republican who played the foremost role in pushing the 13th Amendment through Congress. (Anyone who saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln a few years ago may remember its portrayal of Ashley.) And one of the points that emerges here with particular force is the Herculean effort ridding America of slavery required and the knife-edge contingency upon which the outcome hovered during most of the Civil War.
From the Founding Fathers onward, the eminently moderate and arguably sensible idea of phasing out slavery by compensating the slave-owners—the method that the British used successfully during the 1830s to banish slavery from the West Indies—was opposed with fanatical intensity by many, if not most, American slave-owners. Let the economic determinists take note of this case study: Slavery was not fundamentally, or at least not exclusively or principally, a matter of money and wealth. The most virulent defenders of slavery could not be bought off by anyone: They could not even be paid to do the right thing.
There were other forces, beyond economics, at work: Slavery provided a ready outlet for power-lust, domination, and, of course, the near-universal lunacy (prevalent in both North and South) of race ideology, built upon the notion that the outward physical features of our fellow human beings are indicators of inward character traits, either good or bad. But it was the Civil War itself—a war caused by the slavery dispute, as the proclamations of secession by South Carolina, Mississippi, and other slave states make clear—that provided the horrific, but nonetheless priceless, leverage that was needed to rid the United States of slavery.
After preparatory chapters that set the stage by examining micro-politics in several distinctive arenas, Richards brings it all together by showing how James Ashley gathered the swing votes necessary to push the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives. His fundamental strategy was to target Northern and border-state Democrats who were lame ducks and thus largely immune to the threat of political retaliation for breaking with their own party’s overwhelmingly racist orthodoxy.
To exhume body of Confederate lieutenant general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.8:32 AM, Jul 29, 2015 • By WILL BREWBAKER
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying tells the story of Anse Bundren, an impoverished widower who carries his wife’s corpse across Mississippi to her desired burial ground.
Eighty-six years after the novel’s publication, the Southern infatuation with dead bodies continues unabated.
On July 7, the Memphis City Council voted to exhume the body of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate lieutenant general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He is buried beside his wife, who will also be removed.
The American Civil War, that isJul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Of the making of books, there is no end. Thus spake the prophet, and he may have had books about the American Civil War in mind. They come too fast for the amateur to keep up, but one does try. So when I saw, a couple of months ago, that James McPherson was out with a new collection called The War That Forged a Nation, I ordered it. I was late, a few weeks beyond the actual publication date, but didn’t think that mattered. We were not, after all, dealing with breaking news here.
Except . . . we were.
2:00 PM, Jul 3, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
One hundred and fifty two years ago, at 2:00 p.m., General Longstreet, who could not bring himself to speak the order, nodded to General Pickett that his division could begin the assault up Cemetery Ridge The South’s greatest – and most peculiarly southern – novelist wrote of how that moment lives. The past, after all, not being dead and, not really even being past:
11:17 AM, Apr 15, 2015 • By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
Here in Kuwait, as in the rest of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, there is a sense that the Middle East is changing. In the Gulf media, there seems to be a consensus in support of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led military campaign launched to beat Houthi insurgents and reinstall Yemen's government under President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. Almost everyone wants to see Iran and its allies, like the Houthis, cut to size, and almost everyone is excited to see Arab governments flex their military muscles. Even those who are questioning the campaign couch the debate not in terms of regional political doctrines like Arab nationalism or Islamism, but rather in terms of national sovereignty and constitutionality.
It was a fight to the finishApr 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 30 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The two armies had been in almost constant contact for the first week of what would become known as “the Forty Days.” The Battle of the Wilderness had been inconclusive, as, thus far, had the one at Spotsylvania, with the epic struggle for “the Bloody Angle” still to come. Neither commander had been able to accomplish his ultimate objective: namely, victory in a battle of annihilation. What had so far been accomplished was attrition, and a woeful amount of that.
Was the Civil War a second American Revolution? Jan 5, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 17 • By ALLEN C. GUELZO
Americans love revolutions. Our national identity began with a revolution, and a revolutionary war that lasted for eight years; and we cheer on other people’s revolutions, as though we find satisfaction in multiplying our own. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.
Sherman breaks the deadlockNov 10, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 09 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
On September 2, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln received a telegram from General William Tecumseh Sherman that read, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” This was more than a victory. It was deliverance.
2:05 PM, Sep 17, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
At a school on MacDill Air Force Base, President Obama was asked whether he fought in the civil war. "No," Obama reportedly responded. "I was born in 1961."
Via the pool report:
The fight for Georgia Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
In the summer of 1864, the Union cause rested with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. They commanded the most formidable armies ever seen on the continent, yet neither had been in uniform four years earlier, when the war began. Both were West Point trained and had served, without distinction, in the regular army. One had left the army in disgrace; the other in frustration.
The fight that Grant regrettedJun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The evening before the battle, a Union officer walked among troops who would be assaulting Confederate positions in the morning and observed something he had not seen before. As he wrote after the war, “I noticed that many of the soldiers had taken off their coats and seemed to be engaged in sewing up rents in them.”
10:39 AM, May 12, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Good news for those of us – and our numbers are legion – who are abidingly and insatiably interested in the American Civil War and the large footprint it has left on our history: Mackubin Owens has published a splendid piece in the current National Review on the battles and maneuvers of 150 years ago that have come to be known as “The Virginia Overland Campaign.” In his treatment of
150 years ago—the appointment that won a war Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
He arrived without ceremony. No pomp, no pageantry. It was as far in spirit from Caesar’s entry into Rome as it could possibly have been. He had come to Washington to be made only the third lieutenant general in the nation’s history (George Washington and Winfield Scott were the others) and to assume command of all the Union armies and, consequently, the direction of the war from Texas to Virginia. He was being asked—commanded, actually—by civilian leadership to save the Republic. He was not the first.
And three years of foreign policy missteps. 8:35 AM, Mar 15, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Today marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian rebellion, a popular uprising that started as a protest movement and degenerated into a civil war that has already claimed more than 146,000 lives. As the White House has come to enumerate the various reasons why it has balked at arming the rebels—they’re fragmented, they’re farmers, they’re al Qaeda—it’s worth remembering that even before the opposition picked up weapons to defend itself against a regime shooting at unarmed protestors, it took Obama nearly half a year before he called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside.