You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

calvin.png

On this day, in 1995, Calvin and his friend, a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, toboganned off into history. This site seems to be the comprehensive archive. I hope you weren’t planning on getting anything done today.

Several lurkers have written in to note that Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter on the Standing Rock Reservation, still needs plenty of help. So, if you’ve resolved to secure your legacy in the coming year by giving away some your gazillions to worthy causes, or if you just want to learn more about how some remarkable people in Indian Country have transfigured a terribly sad episode into something inspirational, you might want to click on the above link.

Another lurker points to this site, which promises, if you’ll take the time to test your vocabulary, to improve people’s lives — even if your New Year’s plans include drinking a case of Cristal. While soaking your troubles away. In a platinum tub filled with thousand-dollar bills. (I’m looking at you, Silbey).

Finally, these folks are on the radical end of the spectrum, which may or may not be your cup of tea. But they’re getting their hands dirty in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward. So, like ‘em or not, they deserve some respect.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program of history and, um, other stuff. Oh wait, there’s just one more thing before I forget: may this next year be filled with joy and good health for you and your loved ones. Peace feels like a longshot, I suppose, but there’s no harm in dreaming. Right? Happy New Year.

Some of the neon has gone out at the UC Davis Galleria.

wounded knee

Louis Warren is also known as “Theory Man.” His most recent book, Buffalo Bill’s America, won a host of prizes last year, including the American Historical Association’s “Beveridge Award…given annually for the best book in English on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present.” That’s an easy get, obviously. Being asked to write for this blog, on the other hand, is something to crow about. I’ve invited Louis to stop by and say a few words because I’m lazy he’s currently writing about the Ghost Dance. And given that I’ve blogged a bit about the need for a reinterpretation of the Indian Wars, the following post is particularly welcome. So thanks, Louis, for taking the time to do this.

“Wounded Knee” — Louis Warren

On this day in 1890, the United States Seventh Cavalry massacred dozens of Minneconjou Sioux beside Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. With all the discussion of the Civil War and its causes, it’s worth taking a minute to think about the causes and meaning of the Wounded Knee Massacre, which many consider the last major engagement of the Indian Wars.

In fact, as far as the Minneconjou and other Lakota (or Western) Sioux were concerned, the war with the U.S. had been over for a decade by the time of Wounded Knee. Defeated, starving, and confined to shrinking reservations, some had taken up a ritual dance which visionaries announced would bring on the return of Christ and resurrect the dead. Dubbed ‘the Ghost Dance’ by a sensationalist press, the revival made some authorities nervous and so they ordered all Indians to cease dancing and report to reservation headquarters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Progressives have been annoyed, for some time now, that pro-war pundits keep their jobs no matter how often they’re wrong: about Iraq, foreign policy more broadly, or, come to think of it, just about anything else that pops into their heads. Not only that, but said pundits maintain their prestige, as though their reputations exist independent of their work product. Which, I’ll grant you, is quite odd, because a pundit’s words and ideas should be the very foundation of their reputation. If their opinions are rotten, in other words, the foundation should crumble.

Alas, the relationship between cause and effect, in Punditland at least, has apparently been been severed. So it’s not surprising to hear that Bill Kristol is leaving Time for a post at the New York Times, bastion of American liberalism.

Matthew Yglesias writes about this today:

After all, everyone knows that conservative pundits don’t get held accountable for saying tons and tons of wrong stuff — that’s not how it works. Instead, you march through the institutions of conservatism by being loyal to the Cause, and then eventually mainstream organizations decide they need to contain representatives of the Cause and there you are on your perch. So it is in the newsweeklies, so it is on the op-ed pages, and so it is on the Sunday shows.

Now let me be clear: I completely agree with Yglesias (and not just because he linked to us yesterday — thanks!). And I, too, find the phenomenon absolutely maddening. Particularly when it comes to someone like Bill Kristol, who’s nothing but an appendage of the Republican Party: more than a factotum, but far less than a vibrant intellectual. But I wonder: is it only conservatives who are immune from consequences? Or is there just a permanent pundit class?

That’s a serious question, by the way. Are there any recent examples of opinion makers, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, who’ve been fired and relegated to obsurity for writing or saying silly things? Rather than, say, being cashiered for calling female basketball players “nappy-headed hos.”

Moving closer to home, are there historians who, after having established for themselves excellent (not just good, mind you) reputations, have completely fallen from grace? Tenure, of course, means that scholars have job security. So I’m thinking more of a case in which someone has truly lost intellectual standing after having once occupied a lofty perch. Such a fall, to make the comparison work, would have to be linked to a huge scholarly blunder — not illegal, immoral, or unethical conduct (which, as everyone knows, is the key to tenure).

Update (12:28 EST): I’ve just edited the first sentence of this post for style. It’s still not great, I know, but I can at least make my way through it now.

In the spirit of Professor Silbey’s observation that students are “not patient with a historian’s sense of ‘yes, but’ or ‘no, but’…” here’s a juicy information fix, without easy interpretation. So when you get to the end and realize there was a bunch of neat stuff but no punchline, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

On this day in 1913, the New York Times printed a story beginning, “If all the aliens who live in the County of New York became citizens they would outnumber those persons of native birth by more than 200,000.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Editor’s Note: I’ve changed the title. Sorry if this offends anyone. I was in a hurry when I originally put this post up, and this title is a better tease. I hope.

The following comes courtesy of Ben Alpers, frequent commenter and gifted film historian. I was going to do the Peggy Eaton affair and John C. Calhoun’s resignation (on this day in 1832), which would have been: HOTT! But I’m tired of the Civil War, for the moment at least, and Calhoun kept bringing me back to nullification. So Ben bailed me out.

(Thanks to Ari for tossing me this guest slot!)

On this day in 1895, the brothers Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864-1948) held what is usually said to be the first ever public screening of projected motion pictures at the Salon Indien in the basement of the Grand Café on the Boulevard de Capucins in Paris. The screening lasted a total of twenty minutes and consisted of ten films, including the now famous “La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyons” (“Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), their very first film. Like the other films in the screening, it featured a short image from everyday life. The entire program of films screened that day can be viewed here.

The Lumières came from a family that had long been interested in the mechanical reproduction of images. Their father, Antoine Lumière (1840-1911) ran a factory that produced photographic plates. Auguste and Louis went to work in their father’s factory and eventually took over the business when he retired in 1892. It was Antoine who apparently first interested his sons in motion pictures when, in the autumn of 1894, he was inspired by a motion picture he had viewed in Thomas Alva Edison’s Kinetoscope, the peepshow device with which the Wizard of Menlo Park had introduced the world to motion pictures.

Antoine’s wonder at the Kinetoscope draws our attention to the importance of specifying exactly what happened for the first time in that Paris basement salon 112 years ago today.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m in Florida right now, on vacation, staying in an apartment on the beach. The complex has a nice pool, so I can go back and forth from fresh to salt water with my son, who thinks he’s a fish. The problem is, the other day I got into an argument with someone, another dad, I’d just met at the pool. I don’t usually do that, pick fights with folks I hardly know. I prefer to wait an appropriate interval before making people hate me. But in this case I made an exception. I had no choice. The guy had it coming: after hearing that I’m a history professor, and that I teach the Civil War, he insisted that President Bush’s approach to disregard for habeas corpus is no different than Lincoln’s was. Right, he said? Right? And if I like the one (Lincoln), why don’t I support the other (Bush)?

So I tried, as politely as I could — while also doing my best to keep my son from drowning (he’s a fish in his love for the water, not necessarily in his abilities, okay?) — to explain that, actually, I’ve got misgivings about Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus. In fact, I said, when I teach the Civil War to undergraduates, I devote parts of several lectures to the myriad ways in which civil liberties were besieged during the conflict. This is one among many cautionary tales I offer students who are often looking for a heroic narrative when they take my class.

But this wasn’t good enough for my new friend antagonist, who insisted that President Bush’s scorn for the Consitution is fired by the threat of Islamic extremism. Which threat, he insisted, “will destroy this country, destroy freedom EVERYWHERE, if we don’t do something about it NOW.” That’s a direct quote, by the way. I know for sure, because I still bear the mark on my chest where he poked me while shouting those memorable words. Ouch.

After kindly noting that President Bush seems to be destroying freedom in order to save it, I went on to try to explain that Lincoln actually faced a real threat to the republic. Whereas, in my view, President Bush does not (Unless you count Vice President Cheney. But I don’t think that’s what Pool Deck Guy (PDG) had in mind.). At least not from “Islamic extremism.” Which isn’t to say that extremism, in all of its guises, isn’t a very serious threat, perhaps even the serious threat of our time. Just not the same kind of threat that the Confederacy was to the Union — which is to say, existential. So I started to walk PDG through the meaning of inter arma enim silent leges, the key differences between Ex parte Merryman and Ex parte Milligan, and the finer points of the impact that the Copperheads and Clement Vallandigham (citing this excellent new book) had on Lincoln’s perception of the rule of law. But now I was splitting hairs. Or so it seemed to the by-then VERY angry PDG. We were arguing, I have to admit. Loudly. (At least in his case. I, by contrast, was calm, genteel even, and quite persuasive. You can ask anyone who was there.) In a pool. In Florida. Surrounded by swimming children. And scores of snowbirds trying not to notice the scary professor sporting the shaved head and his aggressive friend with the Long Island accent. So I walked away.

In part, I’m writing about this because the case above is another instance that has me thinking a lot about the uses of history in political arguments. The past, it seems, is most interesting when deployed as an instrument of persuasion. But nobody ever seems to be persuaded, no matter how compelling the evidence. What to do? I honestly don’t know. Blog, I guess, at least for the moment.

Also, returning to the recurring theme of the lattice of coincidence that weaves together the disparate threads of our lives: I’ve been reading the manuscript for my colleague Kathy Olmsted’s new book on the history of American conspiracy theories. It’s both a brilliant and unsettling work of scholarship, part of which has been discussed on this blog (here and here). Particularly troubling are the long sections on the many actual conspiracies perpetrated by J. Edgard Hoover against the American people. So this Times article comes as little surprise.

Here’s the lede paragraph for the story you’ll find behind the link:

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover hoped to round up and jail all of the people whose names appeared on his “suspct index,” a master list, compiled over the course of decades, of the many individuals he suspected of disloyalty. So, it appears that in 1950, President Harry Truman was one of the only things standing between this nation and an updated version of the nightmarish Palmer Raids of 1919-1921. Which begs the burning question, who will keep something like this from happening again? I wonder what PDG thinks. Maybe I’ll ask him later today. Or maybe not.

Editor’s Note: If you really want to know something about the Palmer Raids, go here and here and here and here. The eminent Professor Olmsted warns me that the above link is, perhaps, not entirely accurate. Stickler.

Update: I’ve just embedded a link above to a piece that Eric wrote some time ago on the substance of this glib post. But, given all the links I’ve arrayed before you, Eric’s essay might get lost. And that would be a shame. Because it’s good. So here’s that link again. As ever: Ari for glib, Eric for substance. Sigh.

From the Department of Accomplished Former Historians, we hear of someone who “wrote a dissertation on the role of Jews in the U.S. civil rights movement,” but “decided that rather than sit alone in a library, I’d try and make people laugh.”

And that little boy grew up to be… Sacha Baron Cohen.

But who told him people don’t laugh at professional historians?

Christmas Day… Boxing Day… why not keep up the holiday cheer with Beagle Day? On 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin set sail on HMS Beagle out of Plymouth Harbor, and promptly got seasick. Which is worth mentioning because Darwin has become more than a man to us. As Lewis Mumford wrote, “he is like some great earth-god mingling with his own creations.” We hold him responsible for much — too much. Darwin and his -ism did much less than we think. Especially, and for the love of Mike, would people please stop writing about “social Darwinism”?

It’s a cliché of the history paper that during the industrial era, misery and suffering stalked the land: Infernal mills sent vile plumes up to cloud the skies. Steam machines sank their filthy limbs into the earth to draw forth its riches. Steel rails and tractor furrows bound nature to the unyielding grid of reason, enslaved to the god of profit. The grimy, poverty-struck, and disease-ridden hordes of humanity scuttled along in service to these mighty apparatus and the lords of plutocracy, who in their comfort surveyed this war of a few against everything and pronounced it good: “survival of the fittest,” they said; “natural selection.” It will all end up well, because social Darwinism said. Bad Charles Darwin!

But it ain’t so, for at least two reasons. First, Darwin himself understood Darwinism to prescribe no such policy. Why? Because he noticed, if you haven’t, that let to run on its own, natural selection often leads to the elimination of species that had for a time been well adapted to their environments. Darwinism predicts no progress to a happier future and so, Darwin wrote, you shouldn’t expect to ride it anywhere good: “if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”

Second, the contrary idea, that unchecked exploitation of the weak would lead to a better tomorrow, actually predated Darwin’s On the Origin of Species — as one of its principal authors, Herbert Spencer, was keen to point out. It was Spencer who recommended “the mercy of severity,” who claimed “the well-being of existing humanity [is] secured by that same beneficent, though severe discipline, to which the animate creation at large is subject: a discipline which is pitiless in the working out of good,” and who mildly noted that “The forces which are working out the great scheme of perfect happiness, taking no account of individual suffering, exterminate such sections of mankind as stand in their way, with the same sternness that they exterminate beasts of prey and herds of useless ruminants. Be he human being, or be he brute, the hindrance must be got rid of,” all in Social Statics, which appeared in 1850, nine years before On the Origin of Species, and whose policy recommendations included the elimination of the Poor Laws, the Sanitary Laws, and any other institutions that permitted disobedient imperfections (also known as unfortunate human beings) to thrive. It was the optimistic Spencer, the Spencer who assured everyone that present misery led to future perfection, whom the heartless lionized. “The American nation will be a long time in evolving its ultimate form…. but … its ultimate form will be high,” he declared.1

Well, so what, you may ask. So “social Darwinism” really should be called “social Spencerism.” It’s all just names, right? No. It’s about the substantial difference between faith and reason. When we defame Darwin as the author of a vicious doctrine that underwrites the mistreatment of our fellows, we not only libel a decent person who went out and got sick on the Beagle for our betterment, we perpetuate the worst part of anti-Darwinist polemics: the idea that Darwinism licenses amorality and heartlessness. Darwin made himself as clear as he could on this point: it is precisely the idea that natural selection predicts no necessary good outcome that presses us to behave better than our brute urges. It is Spencer’s great and comforting lie that perfection awaits if only we can countenance savagery now, which lets us smile and smile and see murder done in our names.


1The discussion here owes almost entirely to the brilliant Robert C. Bannister, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought, in which Bannister points out that although the later Spencer was more pessimistic, it was not the later Spencer whom laissez-faire promoters admired.

There’s also an excellent point to be made as Frank Sulloway does with respect to the finches that it was the idea of natural selection that led to Darwin’s ability to understand his Beagle evidence — not the Beagle evidence that led Darwin to develop the idea of natural selection.

map.png

My former colleague, Susan Schulten, whose history of geography in the United States is both fantastic and still the industry standard, recently completed an essay for a new edited collection about the history of cartography. Susan’s piece opens with a discussion of the above image: Francis Bichnell Carpenter’s First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. (It’s not snowing in the original, I don’t think. But having never seen it in person, I can’t say for certain.)

If you click on this link (I urge you to do so), you’ll be transported to the University of Chicago Press website, where you’ll be able to mess around with the map that appears on the right in Carpenter’s painting. The “slave map” is an amazing document, which, Susan suggests, “organized information in fundamentally new ways.” If people are interested in how, perhaps I can convince Susan to explain a bit more in the comments. Or, you can buy the book and read what she has to say. In the meantime, I’ll borrow some of the text from the Chicago Press’s site:

Edwin Hergesheimer’s map of Southern slavery was printed in September of 1861 and sold to raise money for sick and wounded Union soldiers. It identified the percentage of the population enslaved in each county, and the total number of slaves—four million, up from 700,000 in 1790—was a figure that could not have gone unnoticed by Americans living through such violent upheaval. By using this relatively new “choropleth” technique of shading, Hergesheimer showed Americans their country through the lens of slavery.

The “slave map” was of particular interest to President Abraham Lincoln, as illustrated in a painting by Francis Bichnell Carpenter, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. The artist spent six months living at the White House in order to complete this work, and in that time repeatedly observed Lincoln studying the map. To master the detail on the map for his painting, Carpenter surreptitiously borrowed it; and when the president visited the artist in his White House studio a few days later he remarked, “You have appropriated my map, have you? I have been looking all around for it.” According to Carpenter, Lincoln was once again instantly absorbed by the map and used it to trace the recent progress of Union troops through Virginia. It gave Lincoln happy news, for the areas conquered by the Union just that week were densely populated with slaves. Thus Hergesheimer’s map appears in the corner of Carpenter’s painting, a detail as meticulously chosen as the artist’s arrangement of Lincoln’s cabinet: those sympathetic to emancipation appear on the president’s right, while the more conservative members are placed at his left. The map also appealed to Carpenter for its elegant organization of information. By just a glance, one could see the proportion of blacks to whites in the Southern states, which made it impossible to deny that slavery was at the heart of the rebellion.

Susan wrote to me that: “I’m not sure this tells us anything to resolve the blog debate over the war; it certainly establishes Lincoln’s preoccupation with slavery and the military strategy behind emancipation. The more interesting (to me) story is what it says about the production of knowledge.” All of that fascinates me. But I’m especially intrigued by the way that Hergesheimer’s map grapically depicts the centrality of slavery, particularly in the so-called Black Belt, but really throughout most of the South. In an era in which maps were expensive, and access to them comparatively rare, this one must have caused quite a sensation. It certainly captured Lincoln’s fancy. My highly professional takeaway: maps rock.

Update: Eric has turned off the snow in the blog, perhaps because the map in the sidebar indicates that we’re located in Davis, California. Snow is quite rare here.

On this day in history, regardless of the year, it seems that people were availing themselves of after-Christmas sales. They were at the mall: arguing with the jerk who tried to steal their parking space, fighting the crowds, and wondering if $19.95 really was a good deal for a rayon codpiece in a lovely shade of dusty plum.

Which explains why not much else happened on this day. Except that: In 1776, General Washington’s troops fought the Hessians at Trenton. This blog can always count on Washington for content. Thanks again, George. Also, the coffee percolator was patented in 1865. I’m guessing there’s actually an interesting post, about the Civil War and technological advance, lurking beneath that fact. But it would take a better, more dedicated blogger than I to run down the story. Come to think of it, I’d be curious to know more about the history of the after-Christmas sale. And sales generally. When did they become so common? Again, though, I don’t have the energy, or the resources while on vacation, to run down such things.

All of that said, keep watching this spot: Eric will be taking over the On This Day in History duties tomorrow. He’s got something good for us. No pressure, dude.

[Updated, 12/28/2007: Welcome, Matthew Yglesias readers (and Matthew Yglesias, who evidently is a Matthew Yglesias reader). Also, if you’re looking here too, welcome Bruce Bartlett. Please, y’all, feel free to look around and comment.]

Possibly if you are not crazy, or ignorant, you know this, but: The Democratic Party was the party first of slavery, and then of white supremacy. You see, the Republican Party was created to oppose the spread of slavery, and the election of Abraham Lincoln — without a single southern state’s support — occasioned the secession ultimately of eleven southern states.

And then beginning in around 1889-90, partly to keep down the Populist, or People’s, Party, Democrats in the South promoted the disfranchisement of African Americans. And racist southerners hewed to the Democratic Party so long as — and only so long as — the Democratic Party remained the party of white supremacy.

The Republicans, unsurprisingly, knew this, and for decades portrayed the Democrats as the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion — because the Democrats were also the party not so keen on temperance, and not so hateful of the Catholic immigrants, as well as the party identified with the secession of the South.

The Democrats couldn’t actually afford to be too much the party of Rum or Romanism. If they were, as when they nominated Al Smith for President in 1928 — they lost southern votes to the Republican Party.

At the same time, they couldn’t take even a baby step away from Rebellion — as they did in 1948, after Harry Truman asked what it would take “To Secure these Rights” — lest they lose southern votes to splitter Dixiecrats.

Then, in the 1960s, under Kennedy and Johnson, the Democratic Party began to repudiate this past, ultimately passing Civil Rights legislation. The splitter segregationist candidate George Wallace sundered the southern Democratic Party and ultimately delivered the white South to the Republican Party. Where it remains, because Republicans have taken over care and feeding of the Confederate heritage.

I only mention this because, for some reason, Bruce Bartlett appears to think this history should make you prefer the modern Republican Party to the modern Democratic Party. I do not understand this reasoning. Let’s concede this story puts the Democratic Party in something of the position of a man who actually has to give a precise answer to the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Perhaps you would not trust such a man around women. But would you trust him more or less than a man who has decided to start?

Possibly Bartlett is writing for the crazy, or the ignorant. He must be, if he thinks he can describe the modern association between Republicans and neo-Confederates as embracing “a single mention of states’ rights 27 years ago.”

The inexplicably more charitable Brad DeLong writes on the same subject here.

Commenter Ben Alpers, who’s an excellent historian and good friend, writes:

I’m coming very late to this discussion and don’t have much to add (at this point at least) to the discussion of the Civil War (boring as it may seem, I share ari’s commitment to the current–and as always evolving–historical consensus on these issues, though I welcome an open discussion of alternate views).

But I did want to pick up on one comment by Rick B that raises an interesting side issue:

“The structure of our political system prevents any third party from being effective, so the choice is Republican and Democrat. The option is to choose the lesser of the two evils, and then try to take it over. That is what the religious right did with the Republicans, and now for the rest of us that is what will drive us to the Democratic Party.”

This comment struck me as fascinating for its apparent utter irrelevance. Ron Paul is running as a Republican. This conversation has nothing whatsoever to do with third party attempts.

And yet, I think this comment actually reaches the heart of what motivates a lot of Paul supporters…and the emptiness of the appeals of a lot of Paul detractors.

I’m unsympathetic to Ron Paul for a whole host of reasons, including the views highlighted in this post. But I am sympathetic to his supporters’ sense that the leading candidates of both major parties are militarists who are far too fond of executive power. The shame is that Ron Paul is virtually the only candidate so far to challenge these assumptions (Dennis Kucinich has, too, but seems to get no traction, even from progressive Democrats….why he doesn’t is, I think, an interesting topic for another day). Unfortunately, Paul challenges the neo-imperialist assumptions of the “mainstream” candidates from a place that I find unacceptable.

I mention Rick B’s little irrelevant excursus on third parties (whose role in US history is significantly more vital than he lets on, and whose exclusion has more to do with shallow, rather than deep, legal barriers erected by the major parties) because many Paul critics are less interested in (rightly) criticizing Paul than they are in building a case for progressives to, yet again, support a “lesser evil” party whose commit to war crimes such as torture should give progressive voters pause even if it falls somewhat short of the enthusiasm of most of the leading figures in the greater evil party.

That’s a very smart comment. And Ben’s point is worth considering for those of us who have been a bit flummoxed by the appeal of someone like Congressman Paul, who draws support from across the ideological spectrum. I’ve always believed that something like Ben wrote is true. But his comment is much more coherent and concise than my inchoate thoughts. So I thought I’d hoist it above the fold.

Blogging anything in the New Yorker is a total sucker’s bet. Lots of people consume the magazine cover to cover, and so the idea that I’ll bring something new to a reader’s attention is a long-shot. At best. Still, this article by Paul Rudnick, on the professional relationship between Raymond Carver and his editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish, is one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen in some time.

Here’s Rudnick’s lede paragraph, which is its own primer on good writing.

On the morning of July 8, 1980, Raymond Carver wrote an impassioned letter to Gordon Lish, his friend and editor at Alfred A. Knopf, begging his forgiveness but insisting that Lish “stop production” of Carver’s forthcoming collection of stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Carver had been up all night reviewing Lish’s severe editorial cuts––two stories had been slashed by nearly seventy per cent, many by almost half; many descriptions and digressions were gone; endings had been truncated or rewritten––and he was unnerved to the point of desperation. A recovering alcoholic and a fragile spirit, Carver wrote that he was “confused, tired, paranoid, and afraid.” He feared exposure before his friends, who had read many of the stories in their earlier versions. If the book went forward, he said, he feared he might never write again; if he stopped it, he feared losing Lish’s love and friendship. And he feared, above all, a return to “those dark days,” not long before, when he was broken, defeated. “I’ll tell you the truth, my very sanity is on the line here,” he wrote to Lish.

It seems, based on Rudnick’s reporting at least, that Carver’s inimtable style — stripped of any fat, leaving only the sparest prose — wasn’t really his. It was Lish’s. Lish often cut huge chunks away from the stories Carver sent him, leaving behind what I’ve always understood to be Carver’s distinctive voice.

Read the rest of this entry »

We offer a multipurpose product here:

History can save your ass.

So says William Gibson, speaking of his “favorite new blog.”

Well, I‘m not going to argue with him, anyway.

Welcome, all William Gibson readers. (And William Gibson, too.)

johnson.png

On this day in 1868, Andrew Johnson, the disgraced president of the United States, gave the people of the former Confederacy a Christmas present: he issued blanket amnesty for anyone who had rebelled against the federal government during the Civil War. Johnson had earlier barely avoided conviction during impeachment proceedings and was about to leave office. So his pardon represented one of the last among many instances in which he thumbed his nose at congress, which, at the time, hoped to remake the South through the Reconstruction policies.

It’s easy and amusing enough to fight about the causes of the Civil War, though you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I agree entirely with Eric: beneath all of the arguments about states’ rights lurked slavery. Slavery was the reason that the nation split in two, the reason that 600,000 Americans died, the reason that North and South continue to squabble to this day about history. I also agree with Eric when he says that suggesting otherwise, though perhaps an amusing intellectual exercise, dishonors the memory of the dead — even if unintentionally.

We have these arguments, whether we know it or not, because the South won the peace. Southern Redeemers fought off efforts to upend their region’s social and economic order during the era of Reconstruction. At the same time, they won the memory fight. In the wake of the War, and especially after Reconstruction, most white Americans, regardless of whether they lived above or below the Mason-Dixon line, wanted to live peacefully, to consolidate or regain political power, or to get back to the business of doing business. They wanted no more conflict.

Reconciliation, then, seemed far more appealing — and far more profitable — than delving continually into the complicated and unresolved question of causation surrounding the War. As a result, in the same moment that Southern propagandists were producing the Myth of the Lost Cause, most Northerners accepted a narrative in which both Billy Yank and Johnny Reb had fought hard, fought bravely, and fought well during the War. What they had fought for, though, was a conversation best avoided. Heritage organizations, as David Blight and others have argued, led the charge in this memory fight. They erected monuments, published regimental histories, and gathered to remember the dead. And, to a remarkable extent, they avoided recriminations over which side bore the most repsonsiblity for the War. Again, reconciliation served the interests — economic, cultural, and political — of the majority of white Northerners and Southerners.

But, as the comments on a post I put up two days ago indicate, the fight over the meaning of the Civil War still lingers. And, it runs so deep that we can spend endless hours arguing about why we’re still fighting, going meta in other words. So let me suggest here that the blame lies, in large measure, with Andrew Johnson, easily our nation’s worst president (present company included). Johnson framed his 1868 amnesty order as a key step on the road to reconciliation. But he actually was propping up the South’s crumbling social order. Previous amnesties had been conditional, predicated on Southerners taking loyalty oaths. And while those oaths were hardly binding, they had cultural weight. The idea was: you want to rejoin the Union? Fine. But let’s first make certain that you acknowledge your rebellion.

Such an acknowledgement was important because the South at the time still might have been remade. Remade that is, had President Johnson not been such a successful obstructionist. The Christmas Amnesty, for example, included no loyalty oath, no requirement that Southerners reckon with their decision to have left the Union. Johnson’s failure of leadership, coupled with violence perpetrated by a slew of white terrorists — again, the Redeemers, who worked in service of the Southern Democratic Party — and the spineless rabble within the Republican-dominated congress, scuttled Reconstruction before it had a chance to succeed. The South retained most of its cultural institutions, continued to disfranchise its newly liberated African-American population, and reconsolidated political control of the region in the hands of a small minority of white elites, the former Slave Power.

And so, on this Christmas Day, it’s worth considering what Johnson was really up to when he issued his amnesty order in 1868 — and also when he had fought against congress earlier in his presidency. I’m not suggesting he had the coming battle over the War’s memory in mind. But the failure of Reconstruction, which, among other things, led directly to the the triumph of a reconciliationist narrative of the War, is one of the key reasons that people like Ron Paul and his supporters parrot neo-Confederate revisionist arguments. This is why they misuse the past, in other words, suggesting the we fought the Civil War over the issue of states’ rights.

I know everyone’s having a grand time debating the causes of the Civil War all over again, so I thought I would light my own piece of touch-paper: just because Lincoln did not mean to fight a war to end slavery, doesn’t mean slavery didn’t cause the Civil War.

On a basic theory of causation, we’re talking about that x without which no y, where y is the Civil War. It is profoundly difficult to believe any Civil War would have occurred without slavery, or if you want to be precise, without slavery concentrated in one part of the country. Even if you think some version of the states’-rights debate would have occurred without a geographically concentrated slave interest (which I don’t) it’s hard to believe it would have come to war.

And yes, I’ll concede that that imaginary American republic — the one without slavery, which preserved a compact theory of the Union — might have been a nice place to live. But we don’t live there.

We live here, where the war was about ending slavery. Don’t take my word for it, consider an astute student of the war:

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.

Does this mean that the war was necessary to end slavery? No; Paul could be right that slavery would, eventually have gone away. Does this mean the war was the best way to end slavery — where “best” means cheapest, most painless, most just? Probably not — in theory, it would have been much better to have an immediate and peaceful emancipation.

But of course we don’t live in theory, we live in America. And it pretty much appears that in this country, forcible emancipation had become by the middle nineteenth century, the only plausible kind of immediate emancipation. And, you know, justice delayed is justice denied. The need of ending slavery was not only the first but the final cause of the Civil War.

So you’re in favor either of force or of indefinitely continued slavery. Note that yes, prior to the outbreak of war, Lincoln and most white people favored indefinitely continued slavery. Would we be morally better than they, were we transported back then? Perhaps not. Should we be better, having as we do the luxury of hindsight, and knowing what penalty our forebears paid for their comfortable positions? Yes. Is Ron Paul acting as if he had this luxury? No, and I don’t know why not.

By the the time you get to the Civil Rights Act, Paul is onto entirely untenable positions. With the conclusion of the Civil War you had the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. That was what you bought with your 600,000 dead — a new Union devoted to — in the frank words of the Civil Rights Act of 1866,

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.

All persons shall have the same rights as white persons — Congress of the United States, 1866. That was what you bought with your war, with (to repeat) your 600,000 dead, with the wrenching crisis of the Union: a new Constitution and racial justice.

Only, you didn’t: because Andrew Johnson and a bunch of weak-kneed Republicans fumbled it away in the face of racist resistance, because the Supreme Court helped gut those amendments, leaving them all but meaningless, thus necessitating a century-long march toward reclaiming the civil rights recognized in 1866. Was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 wrong, Mr. Paul? No, because the side that thought so lost the Civil War.

Only our collective betrayal of that war, our shared desecration of the memory of the dead, in which we participate every time we deny the purpose of the war and the meaning of the victory the United States Army and Navy won in it, has made the absurd position of Ron Paul possible.

And a Merry Christmas to you!

On this day in history, in 1851, a huge fire swept through the Library of Congress, consuming more than two-thirds of its volumes, including much of Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection. Which was more than a bit ironic, because Jefferson had sold* the LOC his books after British troops burned the Capitol Building, then the Library’s home, during the War of 1812.

Jefferson left his fingerprints all over the LOC. And not just because he ignored the archivists who asked him to wear white cotton gloves when handling the delicate manuscripts. (“Okay already. You’re the ‘Sage of Monticello.’ Whatever. Try not to smudge that copy of the Gutenberg Bible.”**) But also because his vision for the Library defined it in its early years.

Congress created the Library in 1800, at the tail end of John Adams’s presidency. But it wasn’t until 1802, when Jefferson signed the law clarifying the LOC’s purview, that it began to approximate the republic’s national library. This role was precisely what Jefferson envisioned. For in addition to believing in the power of knowledge, he, like many of his contemporaries, had an inferiority complex when it came to comparing the young republic to the nations of the Old World.

Sure, the U.S. had lumbering beasts like the bison, towering mountain ranges like the Rockies, and vast rivers like the Mississippi, all of which dwarfed their continental competitors. But where were America’s soaring cathedrals, its galleries of exquisite national art, its repositories of domestic literature? Where, in other words, was its history and culture? Cue the librarians.

The LOC recovered from the 1851 fire relatively quickly. But then it languished until after the Civil War. Starting in 1865, though, under Ainsworth Spofford,*** Jefferson’s vision for the LOC came into focus. The Library expanded its collections — including acquiring the holdings of the Smithsonian — and then moved into a new building in 1897. By 1900, it owned more than 1 million volumes. Today, the LOC is the largest library in the world****; it needs three buildings to hold its collection of 54 million manuscripts, 18 million books, 12 million photographs, 4.5 million maps, and 2.5 million audio recordings.

The only problem is that it’s still being run by firebugs.

* When you’re a former president, you really should find the generosity somewhere in your heart to, you know, donate your books to a non-profit federal institution.

** I know, I know, the LOC didn’t buy its copy of the Gutenberg Bible until 1930. If it’s restaurant-quality “facts” you want, I suggest starting your own blog

*** History’s coolest librarian. Until Mr. Giles, that is.

**** How d’ya like us now, Europe.

Update: Welcome new readers. Many of you have come here via a link from TPM or Daily Kos. We’re glad that you’ve decided to drop by. And while you’re here, let me invite you to look at some posts beyond this one. Here’s the original post:

I don’t want to pick a fight with Ron Paul’s spambots supporters, which who seem to be among the most annoying passionate on the web. But I will say this: their guy is more than a little nuts. Seriously, on Meet the Press earlier today he suggested that Lincoln was wrong to go to war in 1861.

Here’s the exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the–that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

There are so many things wrong with this line of argument that I don’t even know where to start. Oh wait, yes I do. Let’s begin with: Lincoln didn’t go to war to “get rid of the original intent of the republic.” You have to know even less about history than Tim Russert — I wouldn’t have thought it possible — to say such a ridiculous thing. Or you have to be a bit too willing, eager even, to marry libertarian political ideology with neo-Confederate historical revisionism. Just to be clear: Lincoln went to war to preserve the Union. That’s it. End of story. Full stop.

Also: Lincoln didn’t start the Civil War. To clarify his position throughout the 1860 campaign and well into 1861, long after he was elected president without his name having appeared on a single Southern ballot, Lincoln said that slavery shoudn’t be allowed to expand into the West — a position that was part of the Republican Party (Paul’s party) platform.

Because of his incredibly bold lukewarm stance — again, not for emancipation and certainly not for immediate abolition but only against the further expansion of slavery — South Carolina seceded after the 1860 election results became clear. Six other Confederate States soon followed. This was still prior to Lincoln’s inauguration, mind you, and the president-elect needed to try to persuade the Border States to reject rebellion. So he kept promising, as he had throughout the electoral season, not to prune back the peculiar institution where it already had taken root, but only to insure that it would spread no further.

Which compromised position, by the way, wasn’t good enough for many loyal Republicans (the Ron Pauls of their era, I suppose), who asked that Lincoln forestall war by allowing slavery unfettered access to Western soil. Lincoln, to his credit, replied that such a move would have rendered the Republican Party and his administration a “mere sucked egg, all shell and no principle in it.”

And then, to reitterate, South Carolina seceded. Still, the war didn’t actually start until Confederate artillery began bombarding Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor on April 12, 1861. Then and only then did Lincoln call for troops.

So, because Tim Russert is such an ignorant gassbag, here are my questions for Paul: given that Lincoln didn’t start the war, what should he have done? Allowed the Union to blow apart to avoid bloodshed? And for how much longer, Dr. Paul, you exquisite champion of freedom, would it have been okay to enslave African-Americans in the United States? Another generation? Two? More than that?

And what of denying African-Americans the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, which document, I’ve heard, you admire? (What do I mean, gentle reader? Well, it seems that Paul’s also no fan of the Civil Rights Act.)

Roll tape:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about race, because I, I read a speech you gave in 2004, the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. And you said this: “Contrary to the claims of” “supporters of the Civil Rights Act of” ’64, “the act did not improve race relations or enhance freedom. Instead, the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of” ’64 “increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.” That act gave equal rights to African-Americans to vote, to live, to go to lunch counters, and you seem to be criticizing it.

REP. PAUL: Well, we should do, we should do this at a federal level, at a federal lunch counter it’d be OK or for the military. Just think of how the government, you know, caused all the segregation in the military until after World War II. But when it comes, Tim, you’re, you’re, you’re not compelled in your house to invade strangers that you don’t like. So it’s a property rights issue. And this idea that all private property is under the domain of the federal government I think is wrong. So this–I think even Barry Goldwater opposed that bill on the same property rights position, and that–and now this thing is totally out of control. If you happen to like to smoke a cigar, you know, the federal government’s going to come down and say you’re not allowed to do this.

MR. RUSSERT: But you would vote against…

REP. PAUL: So it’s…

MR. RUSSERT: You would vote against the Civil Rights Act if, if it was today?

REP. PAUL: If it were written the same way, where the federal government’s taken over property–has nothing to do with race relations. It just happens, Tim, that I get more support from black people today than any other Republican candidate, according to some statistics. And I have a great appeal to people who care about personal liberties and to those individuals who would like to get us out of wars. So it has nothing to do with racism, it has to do with the Constitution and private property rights.

For anyone considering voting for Ron Paul, please think again. I know that you’re fed up with the war. So am I. I know that you distrust politicians. So do I. I know that you crave change. Me too. But Ron Paul is either a lunatic, a stone-cold racist (seemingly an in-the-hip-pocket-of-the-Slaveocracy racist, which, to be fair, isn’t very different from some other prominent Republicans — see Trent Lott and his recent defenders) or both. And, by the way, what happened to supporting the troops? Calling the Civil War “senseless”; what will that do to morale?

Update: Matthew Yglesias, as usual, beat me to punch. I’d say that I’m getting tired of this. But I’d better get used to it. I’m old and slow. He’s young and nimble.

Recent comments

This is officially an award-winning blog

Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 180 other followers