Monday 21 January 2019

While we are looking at historical parallels, not of anything in particular, of course....

Reynolds's Political Map of the United States 1856.jpg
1856 map showing slave states (gray), free states (pink), and territories (green) in the United States, with the Kansas Territory in center (white)

Charles Sumner was a single issue US politician. A populist. He believed in upsetting the status quo. And was prepared to do almost anything to achieve that aim. He hoped from political party to political party as the ones he liked to associate with rose and then fell into decline. He eventually became a Republican.
He was a man who preached about a far better future. One where the current constraints of the existing laws would not apply.

When accused of Utopianism, he replied "The Utopias of one age have been the realities of the next."

He was a true believer, not much admired by his fellow politicians as he was too radical and too extremist, and far too rude and not deferential enough to his fellows. Something that would cause him problems in the Senate.

Preston Brooks was establishment. A Democrat. A lawyer. Who also owned rather a lot of land. He strongly believed in the status quo. And despised any attempt, by anyone, to change any of the existing structures and laws that kept society as it was. He did not want change, of any sort.

Establishment versus populist.

This was the 1850s. And the establishment was all for keeping slaves as slaves. While the populists wanted them freed.

One of the significant events of the 1850s was the introduction of the state of Kansas into the Union. And whether it would be a slaver state or a free state. There was no more important or divisive debate in the country.

Sumner, the radical, made a very long speech about the violence then going on in  Kansas.
The speech lasted two days, long even for the 1850s.

What got him into the most trouble was this bit.

He blasted the "murderous robbers from Missouri," calling them "hirelings, picked from the drunken spew and vomit of an uneasy civilization." 
Part of this oratory was a bitter, personal tirade against South Carolina's Senator Andrew Butler.   Sumner declared Butler an imbecile and, Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, Sumner charged him with taking,

 "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

The use of harlot was deliberate. Northern abolitionists liked to use sexual imagery in their language. To imply slaveholders only wanted slaves in order to have sex with them. A massive insult to Southern aristocracy.

During the speech, Stephen Douglas, Democrat nominee for President, who lost to Abraham Lincoln a short while later, leaned over to a colleague and said, "that damn fool will get himself killed by some other damn fool." 

Preston Brooks was a distant relative of Andrew Butler. And he took great exception to the wilfully inflammatory descriptions and so,

Two days after the end of Sumner's speech, Brooks entered the Senate chamber where Sumner was working at his desk. He flatly told Sumner, "You've libelled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I've come to punish you for it." Brooks proceeded to strike Sumner over the head repeatedly with a gold-tipped cane. The cane shattered as Brooks rained blow after blow on the hapless Sumner, but Brooks could not be stopped. Only after being physically restrained by others did Brooks end the pummelling.

  A House committee investigated the incident and proposed expelling Brooks. “This they can’t do,” he predicted to his brother. “It requires two thirds to do it and they can’t get a half. Every southern man sustains me.” 

Brooks was correct in assuming the attitude in the south and the inability of Congress to formally remove him. Most southern newspapers praised Brooks’s action.

Brooks resigned his seat. And was immediately re-elected by his district. South Carolina held events in his honour. From all over the South he was sent replacement canes. Some with lists of other Senators he might like to hit.

Sumner was badly injured and could not remain in the Senate. His district voted in no replacement and kept the seat open for his return. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

To my mind, it was the sending of the canes, even more than the beating in the chamber, that shows the terrible anger that had built up on both sides.  A man had been almost beaten to death in the very body of the legislature, and people felt so angry and betrayed by that man's views, that was deciding the future of their union, that a pummelling was seen as good justice for an opponent of their beliefs.
 Brooks died very shortly. Of an illness. Sumner recovered and carried on his abolitionist work. Becoming a strong critic of Abraham Lincoln who he believed wasn't abolitionist enough. 

 The Kansas-Nebraska act showed neither side, slavery or anti-slavery commanded enough of a majority to over come the other. The impasse only caused greater tensions. With government unable to decide the people took the matter into their own hands and Kansas was flooded with outsiders, intent on makig the state their prefered slave or slave-free state.

 Violence. Vote rigging. Murder. Arson and mob rule became widespread.
The New York Tribune labeled it 'Bleeding Kansas.'
 6 years after the incident with Congress still split and no possible solution to the slavery/anti-slavery positions that divided the nation could be found, Lincoln, was elected. He promised he would not change anything. Would not free any slave or alter the existing laws on property or elections of the country. The South didn't believe him. And civil war broke out. 

Some 50,000 civilians and 700,000 soldiers died in the 4 years of conflict.


Nick Drew said...

A frightening prospect when a simmering but quiescent national 'settlement' is discovered to be a 52:48 split between positions that are irreconcilable, when exposed to the light of day

E-K said...

We are not gilet jaunes, we British.

We'll just hand over the decision making to da yoof as we know our vote is unwanted and makes no difference anyway.

Tout ce qui sera sera

Sebastian Weetabix said...

If the referendum losers manage to stop Brexit, then democracy is dead. As JFK said, "those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable".

You English do have a massive propensity for violence hidden under a thin veneer of civilisation.

Charles said...

I lived in the Deep South, in Alabama, for three years in the 1960s. We arrived just before Martin Luther King was killed, my father was the British consol and was asked to go into the centre of town to register for the national guard in case there was a revolution. He declined and said he would hang a Union Jack outside our house so that people would not attack us.

I can tell you the South still resents the North, it is still the war of the southern secession to them, slavery was a fig leaf . Brexit has the same potential to wreck the U.K., especially as the split runs through the country, there are no real pro or anti Brexit areas except for London. Interesting to see what happens when London, parliament, scraps Brexit. It is not going to look pretty and it is going to go on for a long time.

Anonymous said...

BQ, thank you.I didn't know of this event.
Ref Gardener's comment this accounts in part I suspect for the latest efforts of the establishment to ban the Confederate Flag and remove Civil War statues, side by side of course with the modern take on the race issue.
It is interesting to note that at the time of the Civil War the North was accused (accurately)of relying upon (the 'new') immigrants to swell the ranks of its army i.e. 'not native to the land.'
The Confederate song 'The Bonny Blue Flag'attests.

Scan said...

An excellent post BQ.

I enjoyed that; totally new to me.

As I've said before, we're now in a time where technology is such that the individual freedom available to the vast majority of people means the vast majority of people literally don't need government to get by in their lives (save the usual caveats of defense, police, judiciary etc.) and we should be heading towards "freedom from government".

The case not just against collectivism, but FOR individual freedom, should be open and shut, but somehow it isn't being made to people who aren't already aware.

If we had freedom from government, Brexit not only wouldn't be such a colossal issue, not only would it not happen; it wouldn't be necessary in the first place. It's only because so much of people's lives are intricately subsumed by the state and made to fit the 'one size fits all' policies that, necessarily, so many people are going to be unhappy whichever way it goes.

Bill Quango MP said...

52:48 was about right for the civil war.
Large chunk of don’t knows in the border states, that straddled both views.

US government in the 1850s was so split, and became so paralysed, that it failed to do much of anything to halt, or even prepare, for the oncoming calamity. And politicians on both sides were so intractable and so determined on “no compromise” that war became, virtually, inevitable.

EK. I do think there are enough angry people that a yellow vest style move,ent, based on something like “why don’t you listen?” Would attract enough support for some real trouble.

SW. poll tax tiots. Toxteth. PCs heads on poles. Miners strike. The entire n.i. Conflict. Student riots. London( and much larger than that riots) are all within recent memory. I heard a passionate Remainer, re run the referendum type, saying the uk isn’t France and we don’t riot.
Really? I think we do. And much more often than they think.

GF. Yes, it is still an issue for the south. Far more than the north.
One oddity of the civil war, that was undoubtedly a slave war, was that vast, vast majority of confederate soldiers and supporters, owned no slaves.
And fought not even as much for their cause, as they did for the right for Washington to go away and leave them alone.

That’s the bit the “didn’t know what they were voting for” arguementers miss. It’s always not a defined choice, it’s often an anti choice.

Anon.i think the flags and statues is a tough issue. I can agree I wouldn’t want Forrest on a plaque in my town, if I were black. Would be like having an Eichmann statue in Golders Green.
However, as ever, it isn’t that simple. He was a genius general. As was Lee. Lee owned no slaves. He freed all his BEFORE. The war.
And I also believe once you start messing with history, you damage it.
Looking at you, Dan Snow (flake)

Bill Quango MP said...

Scan- the US civil war was part.y about freedom from government.
The south, was like the north here.
The benefits of free trade and industrialisation has passed it by. It was an agrarian economy. The taxes raised went on railroads and telegraphs mostly up north.
Investement was in the north. New industry in the north. More people, larger cities, and far more focus.

The south was left behind. In some part, because they wanted to be.

E-K said...

BQ - I should have been clearer. Conservative (small c) minded English people do not do rioting. These being the majority of Brexit voters who have remained patient throughout this process (and long before it.)

We are never credited with this. Just called racists and stupid.

Raedwald said...

Bill -

I've always thought it comendable that Dan Snow wants to be a historian. So many young men come down from Oxford with a reasonable first degree having no idea what they want to do. For Dan, I'd recommend three or four years with a body such as Historic Royal Palaces, the IWM, the National Maritime Museum or suchlike, then register for his doctorate when he's got a bit of experience and knowledge under his belt.

Who knows, in ten years he may be able to call himself a historian. And perhaps even, like Dr Lucy Worsley OBE, host a television programme with academic credibility.

jim said...

A few blogs seem to be toying with the notion of 'revolution' in the event Brexit is dumped. Whether this is armchair revolution, sabre rattling or perhaps testing the waters I don't know.

How might some sort of unrest come about? The Brexiteers seem to be either the elderly or the posh right wingers or those who live in left-behind areas. The Remainers seem to be the young, the middling sort and those who live in the soft south. The focus for any sort of aggravation might be expected to be London. Organising and financing any sort of punchup looks to be a bit difficult. Sure you might get a few thousand yelling and shaking fists but I don't see any Scargill lookalikes with the power to lead. Rentamob possibly but any serious numbers and action I don't really see. Can't really see J RM at the barricades.

For the US case, the South lacked money and organisation and was into old technology. The North had the organisation, the serious money and of course slavery was a disgusting practice that was on its way out anyway. Not sure this guides the British case much at all.

hovis said...

Jim -true; Personally don't think it is kite flying more shock for many.

I'd suggest the thing about Brexit is that the 'staid solid middle' (often taken for granted) which has believed in the long time social myths and rules; such as we live in a democracy and live under the rule of law. [Not that these have existed for a long time, some would say never]. These people have undergone a transformation.

But with the pretence gone, scales lifted from many eyes, there will be a lot less trust and cohesion. I would agree not the types to riot but I think the effects will be felt in the tearing of a lot more social fabric.

All looks quite uneven at the moment with Remain/Corporatism holding the institutions, but given the decay it will be interesting how it plays. I will not try to guess an outcome.