Archive for febrero 2015

Lincoln’s Failed Peace Process

The New York Times    February 3, 2015

disunion45On Feb. 3, 1865, a lovely false spring day, the president of the United States traveled south by train and steamboat to a spot near the front lines of the Civil War for a peaceful talk with the enemy. Such high-level negotiations in the middle of a shooting war had never happened before, and have never happened since. After nearly four years of battering, the Confederacy was all but broken – and Lincoln was eager to stop the killing and begin to heal the country with a peaceful reconciliation instead of a military conquest. That’s why, that afternoon, Abraham Lincoln welcomed three Confederate leaders to the presidential steamboat River Queen, the Air Force One of her day, and exposed himself to political attack for the mortal sin of compromise.

Though many in the North wanted to end the war quickly, the dominant, radical wing of Lincoln’s Republican Party had long since determined not to negotiate with the rebel leaders but to hang them. The beaten South, they said, would be governed “as England governs India.” When they learned that the president had quietly slipped away to entertain its emissaries without so much as telling them he was going, the radicals on Capitol Hill and their partisan press exploded.

The meeting had been set in motion through a harebrained scheme contrived by Francis Preston Blair, a longtime Washington power broker, an alumnus of Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” a mentor to Lincoln and a father figure to Jefferson Davis. In 1864, while the proponents of the Monroe Doctrine were otherwise engaged, Napoleon III of France had sent 35,000 troops to Mexico, ousted its elected president and installed a puppet emperor. Now Blair conceived a secret choreography. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee would retreat southwest from Virginia and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would pursue him all the way to the Rio Grande. Crossing the Mexican border with Grant on his heels, Lee would pick a fight with Napoleon’s army and Grant would jump in on the side of his fellow Americans. Together they would beat the stuffing out of the French, embrace on the fields of the Second Mexican War and proclaim a joyful reunion. Slavery would be exchanged for a chance to loot Mexico, and the Civil War would end with no loss of face for the South.

Francis Preston Blair Sr.Credit Dickinson College

Francis Preston Blair Sr.Credit Dickinson College

Blair proposed the idea in a month of shuttle diplomacy between Washington and Richmond. Amazingly enough, Davis purported to bless it. Though Lincoln dismissed it out of hand, he invited a conversation with “any agent” of the rebellion who was willing to bring peace to “our one common country.” Under irresistible political pressure with the war all but lost, Davis sent to Lincoln three leaders of Richmond’s growing peace movement and gave them a secret mandate to bring peace to “two countries.” Knowing how Lincoln would respond, Davis hoped to kill the peace conference in its crib, discredit the Southern doves he had sent to it and incite the Southern people to a war of desperation.

To the cheers of the combatants on both sides, Grant let the Southern peace envoys across his lines from the rebel fortifications; ignored his orders to keep them there; entertained them profusely at his headquarters; introduced them to his generals, his family and his horses; helped them craft conciliatory messages to the North; and convinced his embattled president that they were ready to accept reunion, Jeff Davis notwithstanding, and give peace a chance. Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, a world-class charmer and a prewar friend and colleague of all three rebel emissaries, joined the president for the peace talks.

The conference on the River Queen was a gathering of old friends. The leader of the Confederate delegation, the 90-pound paradox Alexander Stephens of Georgia, was Davis’s political nemesis as well as his vice president; he was also a friend and ally of Lincoln’s in the Congress of 1848 in a movement against the Mexican War. Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia had been close to Seward in the old Senate. The brilliant Alabamian John A. Campbell, a former justice of the United States Supreme Court, had attended Lincoln’s inauguration and tried to help Seward stop the war before it started.

Their reunion at Hampton Roads began in a glow of nostalgia, descended into threats and ended with a glimpse of Lincoln’s simple compromise: the restoration of the Union, a gradual abolition of slavery, the return of all forfeited Southern property, a $400,000,000 payment to the slave states to offset the loss of their slaves, and pardons for their leaders. The conference ended inconclusively and the participants returned to their capitals, determined to keep hope alive.

But peace was not at hand. As rumors of peace brought hope to their suffering people, militants North and South condemned the very idea of negotiation itself. In the exhausted Confederate capital, The Richmond Sentinel told its readers what peace would bring: “All the dark and malignant passions of a vindictive people, drunk with blood and vomiting crime, will be unloosed on us like bloodhounds upon their prey.” On the floor of the United States Senate, Benjamin Wade, a Republican from Ohio, proclaimed that “this nest of vipers at Richmond” must be crushed, not reasoned with, for negotiation “would be disgrace, dishonor, contamination in the eyes of our own people and in the eyes of the civilized world.”

Explosive though he knew it would be, Lincoln would have brought his generous peace plan to a Congress bent on revenge if a single member of his Cabinet had endorsed it. Not a single member did. “You are all against me,” he said, and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference went for naught.

Its failure had consequences. Some 10,000 men and boys alive and well when their leaders clasped hands on the River Queen were corpses three months later. Instead of a voluntary reunion, the South endured the only existential defeat that Americans have ever suffered. A century of bitterness followed.

James B. Conroy is the author of Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865.”

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A mob attacking the warehouse of Godfrey & Gilman in Alton, Ill., where the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was killed in 1837.Credit Corbis

A mob attacking the warehouse of Godfrey & Gilman in Alton, Ill., where the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was killed in 1837.Credit Corbis

Was Abolitionism a Failure?

disunion45Jan. 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, banning slavery in America. It was an achievement that abolitionists had spent decades fighting for — and one for which their movement has been lauded ever since.

But before abolitionism succeeded, it failed. As a pre-Civil War movement, it was a flop. Antislavery congressmen were able to push through their amendment because of the absence of the pro-slavery South, and the complicated politics of the Civil War. Abolitionism’s surprise victory has misled generations about how change gets made.

Today, diverse movements cast themselves as modern versions of the struggle against slavery. The former Republican senator Jim DeMint, now the president of the Heritage Foundation, claimed that small-government “constitutional conservatism” has inherited the cause; the liberal TV host Chris Hayes, writing in The Nation, said battling climate change was the “new abolitionism.” That term has become shorthand for “fighting the good fight.” But the long struggle against slavery shows how jerky, contingent and downright lucky winning that good fight was. 

It’s hard to accept just how unpopular abolitionism was before the Civil War. The abolitionist Liberty Party never won a majority in a single county, anywhere in America, in any presidential race. Ralph Nader got closer to the presidency. In 1860 the premier antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, had a circulation of under 3,000, in a nation of 31 million.

Even among Northerners who wanted to stop the spread of slavery, the idea of banning it altogether seemed fanatical. On the eve of the Civil War, America’s greatest sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, predicted that slavery might end one day, but “we shall not live to see it.”

In a deeply racist society, where most white Americans, South and North, valued sectional unity above equal rights, “abolitionist” was usually a dirty word. One man who campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 complained: “I have been denounced as impudent, foppish, immature, and worse than all, an Abolitionist.”

While we remember the war as a struggle for freedom, at its outset neither Lincoln nor the Republican Party planned to ban slavery. To calm talk of secession, Congress passed a never-ratified, now-forgotten 13th Amendment promising that no amendment could ever end slavery. Lincoln backed it. Going into the conflict, Congress offered to abolish abolitionism, not slavery.

Abolitionism gained strength thanks to the uncompromising stance of radical “fire eating” Southerners. By ostracizing Northern allies, seceding and then starting a war, Southern radicals gave abolitionism gift after gift after gift. When South Carolina militiamen fired on Fort Sumter, Frederick Douglass exalted: “Thank God! — The slaveholders themselves have saved our cause from ruin!”

The war’s length and brutality gave further fuel to the abolitionist fire. The historian Gary W. Gallagher has argued that the successful generalship of Robert E. Lee ultimately helped emancipation, pushing bloodied and vengeful Northerners to free slaves. Moderates like Lincoln became convinced that “we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”

Still, the war, not the strength of abolitionism, made the difference. When he finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln operated under the president’s war powers. And when thousands of slaves freed themselves and fought the Confederacy, they mostly did so as the Union Army entered their regions. Antislavery blacks fought bravely and lobbied cannily, helped by the radicalism of their former masters.

By January 1865, the tide had turned. Congress moved to ban slavery everywhere (not just in the Confederacy, but in loyal slave states like Maryland and Kentucky). A body that had tried to make slavery un-abolishable a few years before voted to free four million men and women. It could never have passed the amendment if all those Southern congressmen had stayed in Washington to vote against it. Every politician who stormed off to join the Confederacy cast an inadvertent ballot for abolition.

Here’s where the confusion emerges. After the war, many Americans interpreted slaveholder mistakes as abolitionist victories. Abolition looked like a road map for reform. Many claimed to have been on its side before the war. Publishers printed a torrent of memoirs by supposed abolitionists; everyone who ever cast a ballot for the Liberty Party seemed to write a book about it.

The generation of Americans raised after the Civil War modeled diverse movements on abolitionism, from supporters of labor, women’s rights and socialism to opponents of popular democracy and mass immigration. The Boston poet James Russell Lowell even compared a movement to suppress poor voters to abolitionists, writing: “They emancipated the negro; we mean to emancipate the respectable white man.”

Today, we point to abolition as proof that we can improve society by eliminating one glaring evil. This is what unites “new abolitionists” across the political spectrum, whether they’re working to end the death penalty or ban abortion. We like the idea of sweeping change, of an idealistic movement triumphing over something so clearly wrong.

The problem is, that’s not really how slavery ended. Those upright, moral, prewar abolitionists did not succeed. Neither did the stiff-necked Southern radicals who ended up destroying the institution they went to war to maintain. It was the flexibility of the Northern moderates, those flip-floppers who voted against abolition before they voted for it, who really ended 250 years of slavery.

Abolitionists make better heroes, though, principled and courageous and seemingly in step with 21st century values. But people from the past who espoused beliefs we hold today were usually rejected at the time. We can only wonder which of today’s unpopular causes will, in 150 years, be considered the abolitionism of 2015.

Read more about the events of the civil war with this timeline of stories, photos and maps. Follow Disunion at twitter.com/NYTcivilwar or join us on Facebook

Jon Grinspan

Jon Grinspan is the author of a forthcoming book on the role of young people in 19th-century American democracy.

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The Deep Roots of Afro-Asia


African American Intellectual History Society  January 30, 2015

W.E.B. Du Bois meets Mao Zedong (Source: www.bermudaradical.wordpress.com)

W.E.B. Du Bois meets Mao Zedong (Source: https://bermudaradical.wordpress.com)

This post is the first of a short series on Afro-Asia—the cultural and political exchanges and historical connections between people of African and of Asian descent. In subsequent installments, I sit down with Yuichiro Onishi and Robeson Taj Frazier to discuss their recent books on the subject. Guest blogger Crystal Anderson will also share some of her recent work on the cultural representations of Afro-Asia.

More often than not, when my students hear the terms “Afro-Asian solidarity,” they usually point to the Rush Hour movies, featuring the talented duo Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. When I taught a group of high school students last summer, their faces lit up when they suspected I might show a clip from one of the movies. They were wrong. I showed a video clip of Fred Ho and his Afro Asian Musical Ensemble instead. I wanted my students to think about Afro-Asia as part of our ongoing conversation about the meanings and functions of black internationalism. Since none of them had heard of Fred Ho (1957-2014), I was also excited to introduce them to this musical genius, writer, and activist.

My students were astute to draw a connection to Rush Hour. Our popular memory continues to associate Afro-Asia with a myriad of cultural productions including novels—i.e. Frank Chin’s Gunga Din Highway and Ishmael Reed’s Japanese by Spring—and films such asUnleashed, Cradle 2 the Grave, and Rising Sun. The Rush Hour movies, first released in 1998, certainly exemplify the cultural manifestations of Afro-Asia even as they perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes.1 Describing Rush Hour 2, in particular, Crystal Anderson argues that the film “embraces interethnic male friendship, but only on the basis of a reductive notion of national identity, which reinforces the distance between the African American and Chinese leads.” 2 This is true but I also think the portrayals of two police detectives—one African American and the other Chinese—working in tandem to fight crime in the United States and abroad symbolically allude to a richer, deeper, and dynamic history.

Indeed, the historical experiences of peoples of Asian and African descent have been deeply intertwined for centuries. “From the earliest days of the United States,” Fred Ho and Bill Mullen explain, “Africans and Asians in the Americas have been linked in a shared tradition of resistance to class and racial exploitation and oppression.” 3 In a 1905 speech, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois acknowledged the link between the “color line” and ‘Yellow Peril.’ 4 The racist ‘yellow peril’ ideology of the late nineteenth century, which stemmed from white fears and anxieties over Asian immigration, persisted well into the twentieth century and extended beyond national borders. The negative images and stereotypical depictions of Asian cultures that dominated Western mass media mirrored the pervasive global racist attitudes towards African Americans, and other people of color. 5 Du Bois understood this connection and during the early twentieth century, he advocated political collaboration and solidary between peoples of African and Asian descent.

Like Du Bois, countless black activists promoted Afro-Asian solidarity as a radical political response to global white supremacy. A number of historical developments strengthened this point of view including Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933 (a direct refutation of Western control). During the 1930s, many viewed Japan’s military victories as a symbolic triumph against global white supremacy. Many of these same individuals overlooked Japan’s aggressive attempts to colonize China. In 1931, members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)—the largest and most influential global black nationalist movement of the twentieth century—grappled with this issue in the Negro World newspaper. “No true Garveyite who is instinctively anti-imperialist will show sympathy to the imperialist activities of Japan in China,” the unidentified writer began. “However,” they continued, “Japan’s high-handed action in Manchuria has opened new opportunities for the triumphal march of Garveyism.” 6 While criticizing Japan’s military aggression towards other people of color, the author proceeded to explain that Japan’s rise would still benefit people of African descent—especially those who advocated political self-determination.

Representatives at the 1955 Bandung Conference Source: http://www.blackleftunity.org

Representatives at the 1955 Bandung Conference Source: http://www.blackleftunity.org

Years later, the 1955 Bandung Conference, held in Indonesia, represented a watershed moment in the history of Afro-Asian relations. Organized by a small group of prime ministers—Muhammad Ali (Pakistan), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), U Nu (Burma), John Kotelawala (Ceylon/Sri Lanka), and Ali Sastroamidjojo (Indonesia)—the conference brought together representatives from twenty-nine developing and non-aligned nations. The core principles of the conference included human rights, sovereignty, Third World solidarity, mutual respect, and political self-determination. It functioned as a critical site for these leaders to promote Afro-Asian solidarity; agitate for the end of colonialism; and ultimately blaze a path towards liberation and independence. As historian Penny Von Eschen and others have argued, the 1955 conference challenged the legitimacy of a bipolar, Soviet-U.S. world during the early Cold War. It ultimately served as the catalyst for the Non-Aligned Movement, laying the ideological groundwork for subsequent conferences including the Non-Aligned Conference, held in Belgrade in 1961.

By the time the first Rush Hour movie was released in September 1998, the Bandung Conference was a distant memory. However, the movie would become a segue into the subject of Afro-Asia—the cultural and political exchanges and historical connections between people of African and of Asian descent. Beyond creative storytelling, martial arts, and Hollywood cinematography, there is a long and rich—yet oft-ignored—history of how people of African descent and those of Asian descent have joined forces to eradicate global racism, colonialism, and white imperialism. As the recent #Tokyo4Ferguson protests reveal, this history is one that continues to unfold.

Tokyo Marches in Solidarity with U.S. Protestors  (Source: http://globalvoicesonline.org/)

Tokyo Marches in Solidarity with U.S. Protestors (Source: http://globalvoicesonline.org/)

Next Month: An interview with Yuichiro Onishi, author of Transpacific Antiracism: Afro-Asian Solidarity in 20th-Century Black America, Japan, and Okinawa (NYU Press, 2013).

  1. Crystal Anderson, Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 7.
  2. Anderson, Beyond The Chinese Connection, 45.
  3. Fred Ho and Bill V. Mullen, eds., Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 3.
  4. See Reginald Kearney, “The Pro-Japanese Utterances of W.E.B. Du Bois,” Contributions in Black Studies, Vol. 13, Article 7 (1995).
  5. Erika Lee, ‘The ‘Yellow Peril’ and Asian Exclusion in the Americas,’’ Pacific Historical Review 76 (2007): 537–562; Eiichiro Azuma, Japanese Immigrant Settler Colonialism in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands and the U.S. Racial-Imperialist Politics of the Hemispheric “Yellow Peril,” Pacific Historical Review 83, (2014): 255-276.
  6. “Garveyism’s World Opportunities,” Negro World, 5 December 1931.

Keisha N. Blain

kblainBeginning in August 2015, Keisha N. Blain will be an assistant professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Africana Research Center and in the Department of African American Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She completed a PhD in History at Princeton University in 2014. She is currently at work on a book manuscript tentatively entitled, Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism, 1927-1957. The book analyzes an array of primary sources ranging from government records and archival material to songs and poetry to uncover the crucial role women played in building black nationalist and internationalist protest movements in the United States and other parts of the African Diaspora. To learn more about Keisha N. Blain, visit her personal website: www.KeishaBlain.com (Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain).

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