Archive for junio 2015

Video of the Week: The Ku Klux Klan parades down Pennsylvania Ave 1928

HNN June 23, 2015


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America’s Long History of Racial Fear


We’re History  June 24, 2015
An Amalgamation Waltz

An Amalgamation Waltz. Edward Williams Clay, 1839 (Photo: American Antiquarian Society)

Calling Wednesday’s shootings in Charleston a “tragedy” makes this explosion of murderous violence seem like an accident. It isn’t an accident. It is the legacy of an excruciating history that began with racial slavery and continued through the post-Civil War campaign to maintain white supremacy – a campaign that has persisted to the present day and which shapes how many white Americans think about and respond to black Americans.

At the heart of Wednesday’s violence is America’s history of chattel slavery, a labor system built on violence, in which all whites were effectively authorized to do violence to African Americans in order to keep them at work and prevent them from challenging their enslavement. But this brutal system also produced rebellions. Whites – even those who never owned a slave – lived with the fear that that racial order might be turned upside down, destroying everything that they held dear. In other words, whites attributed to blacks the same desire for domination that they themselves were exercising. It is no accident that the alleged shooter is reported to have said: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”

The history of chattel slavery, upended in the Civil War, was followed by the history of Reconstruction, a moment during which America’s racial hierarchy was unsettled, and black people were able to claim a measure of political and civil equality. But the moment was a brief one. White conservatives all over the South, abetted by many white northerners, denounced the new interracial Southern governments as exactly the “world turned upside down” that they had feared during slavery. They overthrew those governments by force and fraud and set about reconstructing white supremacy as best they could without the law of slavery as a foundation.

The Reconstruction years thus gave way to another history: the continuing struggle by white supremacist activists to create and enforce Jim Crow’s exclusion, segregation, and lynching. This struggle took a lot of work, and it required that whites remain intensely fearful of blacks. One of the greatest victories of white supremacy in this era was to persuade whites that they confronted an epidemic of black men raping white women. Despite overwhelming evidence that this claim was unfounded (especially as revealed by Ida B. Wells-Barnett), the fantasy that predatory black men routinely victimized white women became the justification for lynching. Those fears may have run deepest in the South, where the great majority of the black population resided well into the twentieth century, but they found a home in the North and West as well.

As Jim Crow began to crack beneath the blows of the post-WWII black freedom movement, politicians drew on that history to sustain white racial domination. Scare campaigns against the Civil Rights Movement promised that civil and political equality would unleash black men’s alleged sexual ambitions and, once again, overturn a well-established racial hierarchy. The power and persuasiveness of those arguments helped explain the residential segregation and redlining across the North that lies at the heart of so many of today’s inequities. It lay behind the differential sentencing laws for powder and crack cocaine and undergirded the fearful discussion of “super-predators” in the 1980s and 1990s. It is still used to justify the overwhelmingly disproportionate police scrutiny, arrest, and conviction and incarceration of African Americans.

America’s long racial history of imagining blacks as fearsome, criminal, and bent on political and sexual domination has never gone away. This is not because the fantasy is real, but because it has played such a powerful role for hundreds of years. No wonder that it is so readily wielded as a weapon, whether through cynicism, ignorance, or ruthlessness. No wonder that its murderous version of history was so easy for Dylann Roof to find and embrace.

Dylan Roof’s murderous night is not simply a South Carolina tragedy. It is an expression and a consequence of American history – a history that the nation has hardly reckoned with, much less overcome.

About the Author

Stephen Kantrowitz

Stephen Kantrowitz is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of several books, including Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy.

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NPR JUNE 22, 2015 
These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

As a young U.S. Army soldier during World War II, Rollins Edwards knew better than to refuse an assignment.

When officers led him and a dozen others into a wooden gas chamber and locked the door, he didn’t complain. None of them did. Then, a mixture of mustard gas and a similar agent called lewisite was piped inside.

«It felt like you were on fire,» recalls Edwards, now 93 years old. «Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.»

About This Investigation

This is Part 1 of a two-part investigation on mustard gas testing conducted by the U.S. military during World War II. The second story in this report will examine the failures by the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide benefits to those injured by military mustard gas experiments.

Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American.

«They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,» Edwards says.

An NPR investigation has found evidence that Edwards’ experience was not unique. While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

For the first time, NPR tracked down some of the men used in the race-based experiments. And it wasn’t just African-Americans. Japanese-Americans were used as test subjects, serving as proxies for the enemy so scientists could explore how mustard gas and other chemicals might affect Japanese troops. Puerto Rican soldiers were also singled out.

Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Courtesy of Rollins Edwards

White enlisted men were used as scientific control groups. Their reactions were used to establish what was «normal,» and then compared to the minority troops.

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

Army Col. Steve Warren, director of press operations at the Pentagon, acknowledged NPR’s findings and was quick to put distance between today’s military and the World War II experiments.

«The first thing to be very clear about is that the Department of Defense does not conduct chemical weapons testing any longer,» he says. «And I think we have probably come as far as any institution in America on race. … So I think particularly for us in uniform, to hear and see something like this, it’s stark. It’s even a little bit jarring.»

NPR shared the findings of this investigation with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who sits on a House subcommittee for veterans affairs. She points to similarities between these tests and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, where U.S. government scientists withheld treatment from black sharecroppers in Alabama to observe the disease’s progression.

«I’m angry. I’m very sad,» Lee says. «I guess I shouldn’t be shocked when you look at the syphilis studies and all the other very terrible experiments that have taken place as it relates to African-Americans and people of color. But I guess I’m still shocked that, here we go again.»

Segregated troops practice movement in protective gear at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland in the early 1940s.

Segregated troops practice movement in protective gear at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland in the early 1940s. Army Signal Corps via National Archives

Lee says the U.S. government needs to recognize the men who were used as test subjects while it can still reach some, who are now in their 80s and 90s.

«We owe them a huge debt, first of all. And I’m not sure how you repay such a debt,» she says.

Mustard gas damages DNA within seconds of making contact. It causes painful skin blisters and burns, and it can lead to serious, and sometimes life-threatening illnesses including leukemia, skin cancer, emphysema and asthma.

In 1991, federal officials for the first time admitted that the military conducted mustard gas experiments on enlisted men during World War II.

According to declassified records and reports published soon after, three types of experiments were done: Patch tests, where liquid mustard gas was applied directly onto test subjects’ skin; field tests, where subjects were exposed to gas outdoors in simulated combat settings; and chamber tests, where men were locked inside gas chambers while mustard gas was piped inside.

Even once the program was declassified, however, the race-based experiments remained largely a secret until a researcher in Canada disclosed some of the details in 2008. Susan Smith, a medical historian at the University of Alberta in Canada, published an article in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.

U.S. troops in Panama participate in a chemical warfare training exercise with smoke during World War II.

U.S. troops in Panama participate in a chemical warfare training exercise with smoke during World War II. Howard R. Wilson/Courtesy of Gregory A. Wilson

In it, she suggested that black and Puerto Rican troops were tested in search of an «ideal chemical soldier.» If they were more resistant, they could be used on the front lines while white soldiers stayed back, protected from the gas.

The article received little media attention at the time, and the Department of Defense didn’t respond.

Despite months of federal records requests, NPR still hasn’t been given access to hundreds of pages of documents related to the experiments, which could provide confirmation of the motivations behind them. Much of what we know about the experiments has been provided by the remaining living test subjects.

Juan Lopez Negron, who’s Puerto Rican, says he was involved in experiments known as the San Jose Project.

Military documents show more than 100 experiments took place on the Panamanian island, chosen for its climate, which is similar to islands in the Pacific. Its main function, according to military documents obtained by NPR, was to gather data on «the behavior of lethal chemical agents.»


One of the studies uncovered by NPR through the Freedom of Information Act was conducted in the Spring 1944. It describes how researchers exposed 39 Japanese American soldiers and 40 white soldiers to mustard and lewisite agents over the course of 20 days. Read the study.

Lopez Negron, now 95 years old, says he and other test subjects were sent out to the jungle and bombarded with mustard gas sprayed from U.S. military planes flying overhead.

«We had uniforms on to protect ourselves, but the animals didn’t,» he says. «There were rabbits. They all died.»

Lopez Negron says he and the other soldiers were burned and felt sick almost immediately.

«I spent three weeks in the hospital with a bad fever. Almost all of us got sick,» he says.

Edwards says that crawling through fields saturated with mustard gas day after day as a young soldier took a toll on his body.

Rollins Edwards, who lives in Summerville, S.C., shows one of his many scars from exposure to mustard gas in World War II military experiments. More than 70 years after the exposure, his skin still falls off in flakes. For years, he carried around a jar full of the flakes to try to convince people of what happened to him.

Rollins Edwards, who lives in Summerville, S.C., shows one of his many scars from exposure to mustard gas in World War II military experiments. More than 70 years after the exposure, his skin still falls off in flakes. For years, he carried around a jar full of the flakes to try to convince people of what happened to him. Amelia Phillips Hale for NPR

«It took all the skin off your hands. Your hands just rotted,» he says. He never refused or questioned the experiments as they were occurring. Defiance was unthinkable, he says, especially for black soldiers.

«You do what they tell you to do and you ask no questions,» he says.

Edwards constantly scratches at the skin on his arms and legs, which still break out in rashes in the places he was burned by chemical weapons more than 70 years ago.

During outbreaks, his skin falls off in flakes that pile up on the floor. For years, he carried around a jar full of the flakes to try to convince people of what he went through.

But while Edwards wanted people to know what happened to him, others — like Louis Bessho — didn’t like to talk about it.

His son, David Bessho, first learned about his father’s participation as a teenager. One evening, sitting in the living room, David Bessho asked his dad about an Army commendation hanging on the wall. David Bessho, who’s now retired from the Army, says the award stood out from several others displayed beside it.

«Generally, they’re just kind of generic about doing a good job,» he says. «But this one was a bit unusual.»

The commendation, presented by the Office of the Army’s Chief of the Chemical Warfare Service, says: «These men participated beyond the call of duty by subjecting themselves to pain, discomfort, and possible permanent injury for the advancement of research in protection of our armed forces.»

Attached was a long list of names. Where Louis Bessho’s name appears on Page 10, the list begins to take on a curious similarity. Names like Tanamachi, Kawasaki, Higashi, Sasaki. More than three dozen Japanese-American names in a row.

«They were interested in seeing if chemical weapons would have the same effect on Japanese as they did on white people,» Bessho says his father told him that evening. «I guess they were contemplating having to use them on the Japanese.»

(Left) A portrait of Louis Bessho from 1969. (Right) Military orders from April 1944 for Japanese-American soldiers, including Bessho, who were part of the military's mustard gas testing at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.

(Left) A portrait of Louis Bessho from 1969. (Right) Military orders from April 1944 for Japanese-American soldiers, including Bessho, who were part of the military’s mustard gas testing at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.

Documents that were released by the Department of Defense in the 1990s show the military developed at least one secret plan to use mustard gas offensively against the Japanese. The plan, which was approved by the Army’s highest chemical warfare officer, could have «easily kill[ed] 5 million people.»

Japanese-American, African-American and Puerto Rican troops were confined to segregated units during World War II. They were considered less capable than their white counterparts, and most were assigned jobs accordingly, such as cooking and driving dump trucks.

Susan Matsumoto says her husband, Tom, who died in 2004 of pneumonia, told his wife that he was OK with the testing because he felt it would help «prove he was a good United States citizen.»

Matsumoto remembers FBI agents coming to her family’s home during the war, forcing them to burn their Japanese books and music to prove their loyalty to the U.S. Later, they were sent to live at an internment camp in Arkansas.

Matsumoto says her husband faced similar scrutiny in the military, but despite that, he was a proud American.

«He always loved his country,» Matsumoto says. «He said, ‘Where else can you find this kind of place where you have all this freedom?’ »

NPR Investigations Research Librarian Barbara Van Woerkom contributed reporting and research to this investigation. NPR Photo Editor Ariel Zambelich and reporters Jani Actman and Lydia Emmanouilidou also contributed to this story.

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The Charleston Massacre and the Rape Myth of Reconstruction

Time Works Wonders

For That I Do Suspect The Lusty Moor Hath Leap’d Into My Seat.» Thomas Nast, 1870 (Photo: Library of Congress)

As Dylann Roof massacred nine people in cold blood after they studied the Bible together on Wednesday night at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, he told a church member who survived that he felt compelled to carry out the murders. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” Roof said. “And you have to go.” We might take such a bizarre statement as a sign that this act of racial terrorism was also the act of a lunatic. But if Dylann Roof is deranged, his derangement is deeply steeped in a history of white supremacy that has long expressed the threat of black economic and political power in sexual terms.

Apologists for slavery often contended that people of African descent were by nature bestial, and that they would surely revert to a state of savagery without the discipline of enslavement. These fears continued to haunt the white southern imagination through the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, as terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan gained support from significant segments of the white southern populace in the late 1860s by claiming they acted as forces of law and order against hordes of black thieves and rapists intent on causing mayhem and despoiling white women. In truth, there were no waves of black crime during Reconstruction, and the Klan was little more than the paramilitary arm of the resurgent southern Democratic Party. The Klan existed to intimidate, brutalize, and murder economically ambitious and politically assertive black people and their allies, and its presence faded in the early 1870s as much because white Democrats had succeeded in retaking control of many southern state governments as because the federal government cracked down on the organization.

The unmistakable link between fears of black power and fears of the sexual violation of white women, however, not only outlasted Reconstruction but became an increasingly prominent element of white southern racial pathology as the nineteenth century progressed. Even the so-called Redemption of state governments by white Democrats could not entirely contain black political activism, and the chronically depressed southern economy produced masses of economically insecure white southerners who felt that black agricultural and industrial workers took too many of the region’s scarce resources, lacked proper deference to white people, and did just a bit too well for themselves. The widespread anxiety among white men that they would not be able to provide for their wives and children easily transformed into concerns that they would not be able to protect their wives and children. On the racially charged landscape of the post-emancipation South the logic of white supremacy called forth the violent response that it always did.

The phenomenon of lynching, which is America’s signature act of racial terror, began a noticeable rise in the 1880s and became epidemic by the turn of the twentieth century. And it was practically axiomatic in the minds of white southerners that such extralegal mob violence was necessary to clamp down on black sexual predators with designs on the bodies of white women. Even southern congressmen used such claims to defend lynchings. In the early 1920s, for example, Representative James Buchanan of Texas voiced his opposition to proposed federal anti-lynching legislation by denouncing “the damnable doctrine of social equality which excites the criminal sensualities of the criminal element of the Negro race and directly incites the diabolical crime of rape upon white women. Lynching follows as swift as lightning, and all the statutes of State and Nation cannot stop it.” Representative Thomas Upton Sisson of Mississippi agreed, asserting that white southern men “are going to protect our girls and womenfolk from these black brutes. When these black fiends keep their hands off the throats of the women of the South then lynching will stop.”

Such wildly racist delusions, not to mention the expressions of patriarchal control over white women, said far more about white men than they did about black men. Indeed, in light of the systematic rape of black women by white men dating back to the era of slavery, it takes no deep psychological insight to observe that the lurid horror of black rapists conjured by white southerners was more a matter of projection than of reality. The belief remained unshakable nonetheless, and those bold and courageous enough to observe that the threat of the black rapist was a myth placed themselves in tremendous danger. Most famously, when Tennessee journalist Ida B. Wells argued in the 1890s that most liaisons between white women and black men were consensual and that the specter of the black male rapist was a lie, a white mob destroyed the offices of her newspaper. Wells left the South altogether because she was sure she would be murdered.

The numbers of lynchings in the United States would eventually crest and then diminish over the course of the twentieth century, but the myth of the black rapist was a stubborn one to uproot. It was never far from the surface in white southern defenses of segregation during the Civil Rights Era, for instance, with the hostility to the prospect of integrated schools, swimming pools, and other public spaces often conveyed in terms of the idea that integration would mean “mongrelization,” as even black male children surely had their eyes on white girls. Wednesday’s attack in Charleston is plain evidence that the myth still thrives today, and that it is deadly.

What happened in Charleston is so rife with symbolism and so anchored in America’s racial past that it nearly leaves a person breathless. The shootings happened at a church that has long been the center of black activism in the state of South Carolina, in a city that was the heart of the mainland colonial transatlantic slave trade. That church is one that Denmark Vesey, who planned a thwarted slave rebellion, helped found in 1818, and that his son redesigned after whites burned the original building to the ground. The shootings happened one day after the 193rd anniversary of when Vesey’s rebellion would have transpired and two days before the Juneteenth holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The shooter proudly placed a license plate on the front of his car bearing the Confederate battle flag that flew at full staff in front of the statehouse in Columbia even the day after the atrocity.

One smaller and perhaps less-observed symbolic element, however, may be the most telling. Dylann Roof was captured and arrested in the town of Shelby, North Carolina, which is the birthplace of author Thomas Dixon. Dixon’s most famous work, entitled The Clansman, glorifies the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan and imagines the organization as having saved the white South from a fusion of white abolitionist and black southern political rule and from legions of former slaves set on raping white women. Dixon’s book, published in 1905, was a vicious and mendacious act of distorted historical revisionism. But it was a powerful one. Ten years later it served as the source material for D.W. Griffith’s pathbreaking film The Birth of a Nation. The film places the attempted rape of a white woman by a former slave at the very core of the story, and it shows Klansmen as the saviors of white civilization from an oppressive government that is trying to forcibly impose black equality. The movie nearly singlehandedly prompted a national revival of the Ku Klux Klan. And it was a film that white audiences lined up for months to watch. That was true not only in the South. It was true everywhere in the United States. Fifty years after the Civil War ended, white Americans largely agreed that the nation born out of its ashes was one that rightfully belonged only to them.

About the Author

Joshua D. Rothman

Joshua D. Rothman is Professor of History and Director of the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South at the University of Alabama. He is the author, most recently, of Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (2012), and is currently working on a book about the slave traders Isaac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard.

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A Rebellious Act: The Founding of Charleston’s African Church

Emanuel AME Church

Emanuel AME Church. (Photo: wenzday01 flickr CC)

Last week, Dylann Storm Roof murdered nine people in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in an act of white supremacist terror, once again introducing violence into a church with deep roots in the history of Charleston. Founded in 1818 as the first A.M.E. Church in the South and one of the largest black Methodist congregations in the country at the time, the church served as a symbol of black resistance to white supremacy from the moment of its founding. As such, it almost immediately drew the ire of white Charleston. As many have observed, the church’s revolutionary potential was realized in 1822, when it became implicated in the insurrection scheme planned by a free black man named Denmark Vesey. The very founding and existence of the church, however, was in itself a revolutionary and rebellious act.

Richard Allen founded America’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1816. Two years later, after disputes with the city’s Methodist church over the use of church funds and of its burial ground, black Charlestonians sought to form their own independent black church. In 1818, after being ordained in Philadelphia, a free black man named Morris Brown founded Charleston’s “African Church,” – it wasn’t until after the Civil War that it became known as Emanuel A.M.E. – which was affiliated with the A.M.E. Church. Over 4,000 black Charlestonians subsequently joined, making the African Church not only the oldest independent black congregation south of Maryland, but also the largest A.M.E. Church outside of Philadelphia. During the slave trade era, 2 of every 5 enslaved people imported into the United States came through the port of Charleston, and at the time of the African Church’s founding enslaved people constituted 70% of Charleston County’s population. In a city and region so deeply invested in the slave system, defying white authority and establishing an independent black church was a revolutionary act.

The African Church was a unique institution in black Charleston because of its ability to bring together people of African descent from different backgrounds. Charleston’s black community was often divided along class, color, and status lines – free people of color tried to distance themselves from slavery, people of mixed racial ancestry tried to derive advantage from their lighter complexions, and skilled artisans and business owners strove to increase social distance between themselves and unskilled free and enslaved laborers. The African Church’s congregation blurred the lines dividing black Charlestonians, fostering a sense of common, racial identity that may not have existed elsewhere in the city.

White authorities feared the church’s revolutionary potential, and almost immediately began enacting measures to counteract it. From the moment of its founding, the African Church dealt with regular and persistent harassment from whites and from Charleston authorities. Charleston’s city guard arrested 140 members and ministers in June 1818, including founder Morris Brown, for violating the states prohibition on educating slaves. Each of the ministers arrested were encouraged to leave the state, but also offered the opportunity to pay fines or face imprisonment. Morris Brown chose prison and remained in Charleston.

Two years later in 1820, a group of prominent white Charlestonians petitioned the state legislature to express their continued concern about the presence of an independent black church in the city. The petitioners called the legislature’s attention to the “evils” they felt the African Church represented. These men pointed to the “spacious building that has lately been erected in the immediate neighborhood of Charleston for the exclusive ownership of negroes and colored people, from means supplied to them by abolition societies.” The gathering of an all black congregation was a self-evident evil, one made all the more concerning by the congregants’ alleged affiliation with northern abolitionists. Whites feared the possibilities of free and enslaved blacks meeting together outside the supervision and control of whites. Not only did these petitioners want to prevent this black congregation from meeting, they sought specifically to prohibit “free negroes and colored people” from visiting “the eastern states for ordination and other religious pretences and again returning.” White Charlestonians felt they actively needed to prevent the independent worship of free and enslaved blacks.

In 1822, whites’ worst fears about the insurrectionary possibility of the African Church came to fruition in the Denmark Vesey conspiracy, a plot that deeply implicated the African Church. Many of the accused leaders of the conspiracy played active roles in the church, with some, like Vesey, serving as class leaders. The authors of the published Official Report of the plot condemned the African Church in no uncertain terms, placing blame squarely on the church for fostering an environment in which the seed of such an insurrection could grow. They decried its “inflammatory and insurrectionary doctrines” and accused the church of instilling “perverted religion and fanaticism” in its congregants. Many of the slave witnesses implicated the African Church as well, though certainly under pressure (if not torture) from their white interrogators, whose views towards the church were well known. An enslaved man named William Paul, in his testimony against one of the conspirators, claimed to have been told that “all those belonging to the African Church are engaged in the insurrection.”

Another published account of the proceedings that followed the Vesey plot’s discovery argued that “religious fanaticism has not been without its effect on this project,” and that “the secession of a large body of blacks from the white Methodist church, with feelings of irritation and disappointment, formed a hot bed” which gave “life and vigor” to insurrectionary ideas. It continued, noting “Among the conspirators, a majority of them belonged to the African Church and among those executed were several who had been class leaders.” In the immediate aftermath of the conspiracy, Charleston authorities directly tied the insurrectionary activity to the African Church. By all accounts, the Vesey conspiracy would not have been possible without the independent space and inspiration the African Church provided.

Denmark Vesey also allegedly used his knowledge of the Bible to denounce the slave system and recruit other slaves and free people of color to his insurrectionary plot. The Official Report accused Vesey of having “rendered himself familiar with all those parts of the scriptures, which he thought he could pervert to his purpose; and would readily quote them to prove that slavery was contrary to the laws of God.” Benjamin Ford, a white Charleston resident aged 15 or 16, told the court that when Vesey came into his family’s shop, he would readily discuss the hardships faced by blacks. Further, Ford claimed, “his general conversation was about religion which he would apply to slavery,” and “all his religious remarks were mingled with slavery.” Vesey, an active member of the African Church with experience with and exposure to the political and ideological currents of the Atlantic World, espoused radical religious views and was, according to the witnesses who cooperated with white authorities, unafraid to share them with any who would listen.

Deeply implicated in the Denmark Vesey insurrection conspiracy, the African Church was burned by whites when its role in the affair became clear. Though congregants attempted to re-establish the church, the state would soon reaffirm its commitment to outlawing black churches and schools. Black congregants continued to meet, often in secret, through the rest of the antebellum era. As in many other southern communities, the church was one of the first things to be re-established in the wake of the Civil War and emancipation.

Though the veracity of the details of the Vesey conspiracy remain contested, they reveal how the African Church specifically, and religion more broadly, figured significantly in the 1822 insurrection plot and in the lives of black Charlestonians. Many of the accused conspirators played active roles in the church. Beyond that, the African Church could have facilitated the planning of the conspiracy and fostered a sense of racial solidarity by bringing together members of Charleston’s black community across class, color, and status lines. The church may have even instilled in some black Charlestonians, both free and enslaved, a sense of religious duty to revolt against the slave system. At the most basic level, free and enslaved blacks leaving a white-controlled congregation in 1818 to form an independent black church in the heart of the South Carolina lowcountry and the slave South represented an inherently rebellious act. From the moment of its founding, Charleston’s African Church was a site of protest, rebellion, and revolutionary possibility. It was perhaps this status as a site of black independence and rebellion that made Emanuel A.M.E. a target.

The murder of 9 people there continues a long history of white violence.

A version of this article originally appeared on Marksism.

About the Author

John Marks

John Marks is a doctoral candidate in history at Rice University interested in race, slavery, and identity in the Atlantic World. His dissertation examines racial identity among free people of color in Charleston, South Carolina and Cartagena de Indias during the Age of Revolutions.

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The Cuba Embargo Has Actually Worked Like a Charm

 HNN June 21, 2015


First item on the anti-embargo teleprompter: “But the embargo hasn’t worked. After half a century the Castro regime still stands. So why should we continue this failed policy?’

But who–besides the Castro lobby–ever claimed “regime-change” was the embargo’s rationale? To wit:

On January, 21, 1962 at Punta del Este Uruguay U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave a speech to the Organization of American States recommending the members join the U.S. in voting for an economic embargo of Cuba. In this speech there is not a single word–or even an inference–that regime-change was the embargo’s goal. «The United States objects to Cuba’s activities and policies in the international arena not its internal system or arrangements.» Indeed, Secretary Rusk went out of his way to stress that regime-change was NOTthe embargo’s goal.

The much-ballyhooed (mostly by KGB-trained Cuban DGI Colonel Fabian Escalante who authored “634 ways to Kill Castro”) Operation Mongoose also appears less serious and concerted under close scrutiny, and further supports Rusk’s public statements at the OAS meeting.

In fact, many of the actual participants in Operation Mongoose–both American and Cuban-exile—finally became convinced they were risking their lives on mostly intelligence-gathering missions rather than in trying to decapitate the Castro regime.

«I will never abandon Cuba to Communism!» declared JFK while addressing the recently ransomed Bay of Pigs freedom fighters and their families in Miami’s Orange Bowl Dec. 29, 1962. «I promise to deliver this Brigade banner to you in a free Havana!»

«That was the first time it snowed in the Orange Bowl,» later wrote CIA man named Grayston Lynch who was in attendance. Lynch helped train many of the Bay of Pigs freedom fighters and he landed on the beach with them, firing the first shots of the invasion. Then — from 1961-64 — he led several dozen commando raids into Cuba, as part of Operation Mongoose. Probably nobody had the “hands-on” experience with the actual nuts and bolts of Mongoose as Grayston Lynch. The “snow” comment appears in Lynch’s book Decision to Disaster published in 1998, after years of analyzing the entire Mongoose matter, and obviously refers to the “snow job” JFK was pulling by claiming he’d help overthrow Cuban communism.

The famous hearings in 1975 by the Frank Church Committee into the CIA’s deviltry as alleged by Castro’s intelligence Colonel Fabian Escalante lend further credence to Lynch’s claims:

“ In August 1975, Fidel Castro gave Senator George McGovern a list of twenty-four alleged attempts to assassinate him in which Castro claimed the CIA had been involved…The Committee has found no evidence that the CIA was involved in the attempts on Castro’s life enumerated in the allegations that Castro gave to Senator McGovern.”

In brief, the U.S. was mostly trying to contain Soviet-Cuban sponsored international terrorism. And on very sound grounds: every terror group from The Weathermen to Puerto Rico’s Macheteros, from Argentina’s Montoneros, to Colombia’s FARC, from the Black Panthers, to the PLO, to the IRA received training and funding from Castro.

Granted, while most were not immediately defeated they were certainly contained. Then for three decades the Soviet Union was forced to pump the equivalent of almost ten Marshall Plans into Cuba.This cannot have helped the Soviet Union’s precarious solvency or lengthened her life span.

Second item on the anti-embargo teleprompter: “But the Cold War’s over, for heaven’s sake! Why then continue this relic of that era?”

Because international terrorism still rages with slightly different sponsors and Castro’s Cuba is still prominent among them. A DEA report attributes half of the world’s cocaine supply to Columbia’s FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), the largest, oldest and most murderous terrorist group in our Hemisphere whose murder toll dwarfs that of Al Qaeda and ISIScombined and includes some murdered U.S. citizens. This same FARC thanks Fidel Castro for their immense fame and fortune. «Thanks to Fidel Castro» boasted late FARC commander Tiro-Fijo in a 2002 interview, «we are now a powerful army, not a hit and run band

But let’s forward a bit even from there:Just last month Cuba (practically) got caught red-handed supplying Chinese-made arms to the Western hemisphere’s oldest biggest and most murderous terror-group, Colombia’s FARC. The terror-death toll from these Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) exceeds 200,000, and includes more U.S. citizens than have been murdered by ISIS.

So maybe it was a mere coincidence that the very week Obama planned to remove Cuba as a terror-sponsor the mainstream media blacked-out any mention of this blatant terror-sponsorship by Cuba in our own backyard.

Back in February, you see, Colombian authorities found 99 missile heads, 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators, and over 3,000 artillery shells hidden under rice sacks in a ship bound from Red China to Cuba that docked in the port of Cartagena, Colombia.

Most Cuba-watchers immediately guessed what was up. And just last month Colombian reporters (actually worthy of the name, unlike so many of ours) exposed the scheme. In brief:

*The arms were from a Chinese manufacturer named Norinco and the recipient was a Cuban company named Tecnoimport.

*But the ship stopped in the Colombian ports of Cartagena and Baranquilla (where the FARC is based, remember.)

* Colombia’s crackerjack newspaper El Espectator also reports that many Norinco-manufactured arms have already been captured from FARC guerrillas over the past ten years. This proliferation of Cuba-smuggled Chinese arms to the terrorist FARC got so bad that in 2007-08 the Colombian authorities even send a diplomatic protest note to the Chinese.

This awkward information at this awkward time, needless to say, might have hampered Obama’s plan to cleanse Castro from any taint of terror-sponsorship—assuming, that many people would have switched off the Kardashians to learn of it. Hence you’re only reading about it here at HNN.

Furthermore, last summer Cuba was caught trying to smuggle military contraband though the Panama Canal to North Korea, in what the UN Security Council itself denounced as the worst violation of the arms embargo against North Korea to date. The arms embargo was imposed in 2006 by the very United Nations.

Third item on the anti-embargo teleprompter: “But the embargo mainly punishes the Cuban people, and gives Castro an excuse for his economic failures and human rights violations.”

Well, why not ask the Cuban people themselves how they feel about it? Granted, polls are difficult to conduct in a Stalinist nation but every atom of observable evidence proves that the Cuban people actually want the embargo tightened.

In 2007, for instance Spanish pollsters conducted a clandestine poll in Cuba and found that less than a third of Cubans blame the U.S. «blockade» for their economic plight. In addition, Cuban dissidents almost en-masse condemn Obama’s loop-holing of the sanctions against the KGB-trained Stalinists who oppress them. “And now, the U.S. — our ally,” lamented Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas last month, “turns its back on us and prefers to sit with our killers.”

Cubans themselves have seen and felt it during the past few years: record foreign investment and record tourism to Cuba = enrichment of the Cuban regime and increased repression. The “libertarian” pipe-dream was blown to smithereens years ago. Alas, these dogmatists never bothered to poke their nose from their books on economic theory and look at the real world.

Fourth item on anti-embargo teleprompter: “But we trade with China, for crying out loud! So why not with Cuba?”

China’s (admittedly despicable regime) allows a genuine private sector, pays its bills and has lots of goods Americans want—even need. An American can do business with a Chinese businessman not directly affiliated to the Chinese government. Whereas Cuba’s constitution outlaws private property. Every business transaction and tourist expenditure in Cuba enriches the communist regime. As mentioned, the proof and verdict on this item has been in for years, for anyone who bothers to look.

Fifth item on anti-embargo teleprompter: “But why not try something new? At least President Obama is attempting a new policy.”

In fact every U.S. President—especially Republicans–since 1960 attempted an “opening” to Cuba. But most realized that no advantages whatsoever would accrue for U.S. interests or for those of the Cuban people. In fact Ronald “Evil Empire” Reagan probably went furthest in this regard, sending Alexander Haig to meet personally in Mexico City with Cuba’s «Vice President» Carlos Raphael Rodriguez to feel him out. Then he sent diplomatic troubleshooter General Vernon Walters to Havana for a meeting with the Maximum Leader himself.

Castro, as usual, turned on the charm but Walters returned telling President Reagan that it would be Castro’s way or no way.

With our current President this Castroite attitude proved no impediment whatsoever, as already plumbed by some of Castro’s terror affiliates who are already gloating, snickering and rubbing their hands. Take Hezbollah leader Ammar Moussawi for instance: “The firmness of Cuba’s positions and the steadfastness and patience of the Cuban people has pushed the hand of US administration … the achievements of Cuba, which was firm on its principles, is a lesson for all people of the world who are suffering from American hegemony.”

Now that’s comforting.

Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of five books, including Fidel; Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, Exposing the Real Che Guevara and The Longest Romance; the U.S. Media and Fidel Castro. «The terns scoundrel and traitor should precede every mention of Humberto Fontova!» declares the Castro regime’s official newspaper Cubadebate. For more info visit www.hfontova.com.

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Reconstructing the American Tradition of Domestic Terrorism

African American men, women, and children outside of church

African American men, women, and children outside of church, 1899. Compiled by W.E.B. Du Bois (Photo: Library of Congress)

Yesterday’s horrific murder of nine people worshipping at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church replayed a central theme in American history. It is the question, fought for centuries with both words and weapons: to whom does this country belong?

The alleged gunman, twenty-one year old white man Dylann Roof, killed six women and three men, including pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator. A witness to the shooting reported that the killer said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

That a white terrorist murdered an African American politician and African American bystanders in a black church, using language straight out of Reconstruction, is not an accident. It reflects the vital intersection of American politics, race, and religion since 1866.

In the wake of the Civil War, white southern Democrats initially refused to face the reality that they would have to share any sort of economic, political, or social power with their former slaves. With the encouragement of President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over from the slain President Lincoln during Congress’s long summer recess, white legislatures in the South ratified the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, but then promptly set about recreating the conditions of servitude. In most states, black people could not congregate, had to sign year long work contracts, and could be arrested on charges of “vagrancy,” fined, and then bound to whoever paid their fine. Nowhere could a black person testify in court against a white person, so nowhere could a black American claim the protection of the law against theft, rape, or murder.

When Congress reconvened in December 1865, congressmen refused to return their black wartime allies to quasi-slavery under the very men who had spent four years trying to destroy the Union. They put forward the Fourteenth Amendment to give black men a civic identity that would give them legal rights as a condition for the readmission of the southern states to the Union. When southern whites retorted that they would rather remain under military rule than submit to black equality, northern congressmen passed the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which called for new southern state constitutional conventions to rewrite state constitutions providing for black civic rights before the states could be readmitted to the Union. Crucially, the Military Reconstruction Act permitted African American men to vote.

White southern Democrats recoiled at the idea of sharing political rights with black men. But African Americans and white southern Republicans, who had supported the Union during the war, recognized the power of their position. Republicans across the South began to organize black voters. One of their most common venues for political organization was among the very powerful black churches, especially the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and many of the early leading black politicians were clergymen.

At first, white Democrats stood against the political awakening of southern African Americans by simply refusing to enroll voters. This prompted Congress to put the military in charge of voter registration. When both white and black Republicans registered to vote and elected moderate constitutional conventions, white Democrats organized a new force to stop their political opponents from taking over their states: the Ku Klux Klan. Before the 1868 elections, members of the Ku Klux Klan murdered at least a thousand African Americans and their white allies. In South Carolina, they killed African American clergyman and state legislator B. F. Randolph at a train depot in broad daylight.

Congress stood against Klan terrorism with an 1871 law making their political intimidation a federal offense, a distinction that enabled President Grant to stop the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan by imposing martial law in parts of the South and by having federal courts, rather than local courts, try offenders. For the next twenty years, white southerners controlled black political voices by finding ways either to work with black voters or to silence them. This was imperative, they insisted, for black voters were only interested in social welfare legislation that would cost tax dollars and thus “corrupt” the American government.

In 1889, the threat of a new Republican administration to mount a federal defense of black voting brought a new construction to the idea of the corruption of government. A new generation of white Democrats worried far less about political than about social issues. They insisted that black men must not vote because if they voted, they would take local political offices. This would give them patronage power, for in the nineteenth century, local positions depended on the goodwill of local politicians. Black men would, for example, become school principals. There, they would use their power to hire teachers to force young innocent white girls to have sex with them in exchange for jobs. This political exchange very quickly turned to the idea that black political power meant widespread rape. By the early twentieth century, lynching black men was almost a civic duty for white citizens: only by purging the government of black voices could the nation be made safe.

When Roof said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he was echoing the fear of black political power laid down in the aftermath of the Civil War, when white American men had to face the reality that this nation is, in fact, made up of far more women and people of color than it is of white men. That fact inspired terror – and terrorism – among white men in the late nineteenth century. It did so again after 1954, when Brown v. Board warned white Americans that they would again have to share their country with African Americans. Then, as in the late nineteenth century, white Americans turned to terrorism against black political voices as, for example, when four Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and murdered four little girls.

Yesterday, it seems, our history echoed again.

About the Author

Heather Cox Richardson

Historian. Author. Professor. Budding Curmudgeon. Heather Cox Richardson studies the contrast between image and reality in America, especially in politics.

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[Re-posted with permission from Who Makes Cents?]

Today’s guest discusses the history of Empire of the Airaviation and how this provides a lens to interpret the history of capitalism and U.S. foreign relations across the twentieth century. Amongst other topics, Jenifer Van Vleck tells us how the airline industry helped solve various political and logistical challenges for the U.S. government during World War II and how the airlines relied on the government and vice-versa.

Jenifer Van Vleck is Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. She is author of Empire of the Air: Aviation and the American Ascendancy (Harvard University Press, 2013).

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The Hypocritical and Shameful History of the Democratic Party Before the Civil War 

HNN  June 15, 2015

Hoosier William Kennedy was apoplectic in July 1854. “We may expect no better of such as Douglas and Pettit and all the Northern Doughfaces that Followed in their wake,” Kennedy wrote furiously to his congressman. “They have made themselves far beneath Judas he got thirty pieces of silver for betraying his lord and master but they have betrayed him in his ministry.” Clearly, Kennedy felt deceived. But what could have made him so angry? The answer is plain: His Congressional representatives disregarded the desires of their constituents when they voted in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Many Northern Democrats were stunned when their congressmen supported a bill that violated Northern free soil sentiment by permitting the expansion of slavery into the western territories.

Kennedy understood in the summer of 1854 what most Northern Democrats would not realize until the winter of 1857 – that a significant portion of Northern Democratic office-holders held anti-democratic principles; that they favored minority rule over the majority will, and had no qualms about ignoring their own constituents in order to implement such policies and further their own careers. These few Democrats, unfortunately, held the balance of power both within the party and in the federal government, casting the crucial Northern votes for pro-slavery candidates and legislation, causing, in the end, the fragmentation of their party and the near destruction of the Union. Kennedy and Northern Democrats would find the 1850s a troubling time as their Congressmen seemed to be serving Southern slaveowners rather than Northern free men. Southern minority domination was what they sought, but civil war was what they wrought.1

Democracy, and its kin concept of egalitarianism, was at the heart of the political and social rhetoric of the antebellum Democratic Party. In fact, the party was commonly known as simply “the Democracy,” primarily by its adherents. Democratic Party icons Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson employed this rhetoric with astonishing success, claiming that the party was the sole defender of individual liberties and the laboring masses against the evils of special privilege and concentrated wealth, while they, themselves, were wealthy, powerful, and privileged. The rhetoric masked a deeper, darker agenda that was, ironically, largely contradictory to the party’s professed principles. From its inception under Jefferson in the 1790s, the Democratic Party was controlled by Southern slave-owners, and aggressively pursued a pro-Southern, pro-slavery program, often at the expense of its own Northern wing. Nevertheless, the rhetoric was potent enough to hold the loyalty of a generation of Northerners, even as many of them recognized the uneven nature of the coalition. The banner may have read freedom, equality, and democracy, but the reality was an organization dedicated to slavery, concentrated wealth in the form of land and slaves, and anti-democratic, minority rule.

Southern power and slavery expansion were the fundamental principles of the antebellum Democracy. The party structure, itself, was designed to protect and further these objectives and was a glaring example of minority, anti-democratic rule. From the beginning, Southerners used parliamentary procedure to preserve control of the party apparatus, despite the North’s fast increasing population. In the 1810s and 1820s, they employed the secret caucus, then, after widespread backlash against that practice, the “two-thirds rule,” which required the consent of two-thirds of convention delegates to achieve passage of resolutions, platforms, and nominations. The two-thirds rule successfully prevented any Northerner who did not endorse slavery from gaining the presidential nomination, as well as prevent any anti-slavery notions from sneaking into resolutions. (Indeed, it was enough to thwart former President Martin Van Buren’s bid for the nomination in 1844, despite the fact that a majority of the convention supported him. The Southern-controlled meeting instead turned to the slave-owning expansionist James Polk of Tennessee.) While a two-thirds rule might seem to ensure the will of the majority, it was, in practice, a form of minority domination. Southerners, though a numeric minority, could, with the aid of a few willing Northerners, dictate policy and candidates.

Surprisingly, by the 1850s Democrats no longer bothered to hide their anti-democratic values, especially Northern Democrats who were well-aware that their actions violated the will of their constituents. Their votes on pro-slavery legislation were clear enough, but in the halls of Congress, in partisan presses, and in personal correspondence, they bragged about their disregard for the populace. Furthermore, they weaved warped arguments about the dangers of majority rule and the necessity for unfettered elected officials. When former Democratic Senator Daniel Dickinson of New York was asked in 1853 why he had repeatedly turned a deaf ear to both his constituents and the New York state legislature, he struck a cavalier attitude: “I should best discharge my duty to the constitution and the Union by disregarding such instructions altogether; and although they were often afterwards repeated, and popular indignities threatened, I disregarded them accordingly.”2

In both word and deed, Democrats advocated for anti-democratic minority rule. The most potent example is the Lecompton Constitution of Kansas. Created by a small minority of pro-slavery militants in the summer of 1857, the Lecompton Constitution was designed to force slavery on the free-state majority of that territory. In the fall of that year, the document was sent to Congress for approval. If Congress accepted it, majority rule would be discarded and minority, pro-slavery rule would be enthroned against the will of the people. By employing parliamentary tricks, presidential influence, and outright bribery, Democrats were able to push the bill through Congress (though the people of Kansas rejected it regardless).

In addition to their votes, Democrats gave voice to a virulent strain of anti-democratic, minority rule theory that has heretofore been ignored by scholars. Though Southern Democrats had been vocal about their fear of the majority for generations, such words were shocking from the mouths of Northern Democrats. The first, and most prominent argument in favor of minority rule was that the crisis in Kansas had created a national calamity that needed to be brought to a swift end. A conclusion to the crisis, Northern Democrats asserted, could only be achieved through a speedy acceptance of the flawed Lecompton Constitution, regardless of the will of the territorial majority.

A second argument reasoned that it made no difference whatsoever that Lecompton violated the will of the majority, only that the process of its creation appeared to be legal. Others fashioned an alternative view of history in order to rationalize forcing Lecompton onto Kansas, emphasizing the dangers of the mob and claiming that the federal government had been designed by the Founding Fathers to prevent majority rule.

Still others justified their actions in the service of the Slave Power by claiming that Congressmen, once elected, were free to follow their own judgment, regardless of the wishes of their constituents. And finally, a fifth rationale maintained that the public could not always be trusted to vote on legislation and constitutions, and therefore the sentiments of majorities – either in Kansas or the nation as a whole – were sometimes irrelevant. These themes, though distinct, often operated simultaneously in the reasoning of Northern Democrats as they struggled to defend their service to the South.

From President Buchanan’s message on the first day of the first session of the Thirty-Fifth Congress, to closing remarks and final votes on Lecompton in April 1858, determined Democrats labored to convince their colleagues and the nation that pro-slavery, minority rule in Kansas was both desirable and necessary. The first argument, that of expediency, was the most common. Following Buchanan’s lead, Democrats asserted that “Bleeding Kansas” and the crisis over slavery in the territories could only be brought to a conclusion through a speedy, unceremonious acceptance of Lecompton. It mattered not, they argued, that Lecompton was unrepresentative, fraudulent, and enormously unpopular. Rather, it was the only bill before Congress that would bring the territory into the Union immediately; Lecompton and Kansas were just waiting for admission, and all Congress had to do was vote “aye.”

Like the plea for expediency, the second rationale – the veneer of legality (provided by administration recognition) was enough to accept Lecompton, despite its many flaws – appeared in the arguments of several Democrats. President Buchanan’s message to Congress on December 8, 1857 provides an example of this line of thought. Downplaying election frauds in Kansas, Buchanan declared that since the elections that produced the constitutional conventional in Lecompton appeared legal, the results must be binding, regardless of the will of the majority. The free-state majority that boycotted the elections, he reasoned, had been given every opportunity to exercise their voting rights and chose not to do so, thus forfeiting its right to oppose the outcome. “A large portion of the citizens of Kansas,” he explained, “did not think proper to register their names and to vote at the election for delegates; but an opportunity to do this having been fairly afforded, their refusal to avail themselves of their right could in no manner affect the legality of the convention.” Or, as Senator Graham Fitch of Indiana later stated, “That many, and perhaps a majority of the citizens of Kansas did not vote either at the election of representatives to the Territorial Legislature, or delegates to the convention, may be true. Where is your remedy? You cannot compel men to vote. They can only be permitted and invited to do so.” This rationale stunned Northern voters who saw clearly that the Kansas free-state majority had boycotted the elections because of widespread electoral fraud and violence.3

The third argument against majority will – that majorities are dangerous – can be seen in Senator Fitch’s comments in late December. The Hoosier senator argued that citizens should not have control over their own constitutions, and that popular approval of constitutions was undesirable. “The recognition of popular sovereignty by the repeal of the Missouri line,” he claimed, “consisted in the fact that it placed the question of slavery where all others previously were. It did not provide, nor did it contemplate, nor did its supporters imagine, nor did its author intimate, that it contemplated the submission of every bank proposition, every internal improvement project, every school system, every election qualification in a new constitution, to the people, before the people by and for whom it was formed should be admitted to the Union.” Fitch then launched an attack on majority rule in general. “Our Government is one of checks and balances; and some of its checks apply even to the people themselves. Among the objects of our government, one is to protect the legal rights of the minority against an illegal assumption or a denial of those rights by a majority . . . If a majority resolve itself into a mob, and will neither vote nor observe law or order, the minority who are law-abiding, who form and obey government, cannot be deprived of the benefits and protection of that government by such majority. Is mobocracy to be substituted for democracy?” By equating majority rule with “mobocracy,” Fitch dismissed any opposition to Lecompton as catering to the ignorant masses and violating the intent of the Founding Fathers.4

In addition to Fitch’s surprising attack on majority rule, still another argument was raised in defense of the Slave Power. Senator Jesse Bright, also from Indiana, took the floor in March 1858. His lecture on republican government presents a fourth theme in the fight for Lecompton and minority rule. He argued that congressmen, once elected, were no longer bound to follow the wishes of their constituents. Their election, he maintained, constituted a moral and political blank check, regardless of the manner of election. “Nothing . . . can be clearer to my mind than the proposition that the act of delegates legally elected, and acting within the scope of the powers conferred upon them, is the act of the people themselves. According to the genius and theory of American constitutions, it is entirely immaterial by what majority such delegates are elected, or what number of voters appeared at the polls.” It did not matter, reasoned Bright, if the election was fraudulent or unrepresentative, only that it occurred; the will of the majority was irrelevant.5

Bright’s lecture led him to a fifth argument in favor of ignoring the will of the majority – that the American people could not be trusted to make decisions. The practice of submitting constitutions to a popular vote, or subjecting legislation to the majority will, he asserted, was destructive to American government. “So strong . . . is my conviction of the viciousness of the principle of submitting to a direct vote of the people the propriety of the enactment or rejection of laws, that for one I am prepared to extend the same objection to the submission of entire constitutions to the same tribunal.” The people, either the majority in Kansas or the nation as a whole, should have no voice in government, except at elections, and then only as long as the will of the people did not run counter to the interests of the Slave Power. Though Bright explained it best, many other Democrats used this rationale to defend their own actions in the service of slavery. These five arguments in favor of minority rule rationalized their disregard for their constituents and their support for a highly unpopular and blatantly undemocratic policy in Kansas.6

It is clear, then, that the antebellum Democratic Party was democratic in name only. By practicing minority rule within the party, trying to force slavery on an unwilling populace, denying people the right to vote, and arguing that majority rule was dangerous and disagreeable, Democrats’ violated their own professed principles.

1 James Shields to Charles Lanphier, Oct 25, 1854, Charles Lanphier Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library; William Kennedy to John G. Davis, July 1, 1854, John G. Davis Papers, Indiana Historical Society.

2 Daniel Dickinson to Henry E. Orr, Sept 13, 1853 in Daniel S. Dickinson, Speeches, Correspondence, Etc., of the Late Daniel S. Dickinson, of New York. Ed by John R. Dickinson (New York: G.P. Putnam & Son, 1867), 476-481.

3 CG, 35C-1S, 4-5, 138; Appendix to the CG, 35C-1S, 1-5.

4 CG, 35C-1S, 137-138.

5 Appendix to the CG, 35C-1S, 163-166.

6 Appendix to the CG, 35C-1S, 163-166.

Michael Todd Landis, an Assistant Professor of History at Tarleton State University, is the author of Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis.


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Theodore Roosevelt: An Old West Sheriff in the White House 

HNN June 14, 2015

President Obama’s recent announcement that he will sign an executive order to prevent the nation’s police from using combat equipment that “militarizes” their function grates on the ear of law-and-order conservatives, who believe that maintaining an orderly society means that our elected leaders must sometimes take extreme measures to achieve that end. Understanding history, they remember that George Washington used an overwhelming force of 13,000 militiamen to smash the so-called “Whiskey Rebellion” (a ragtag uprising of backwoods distillers who refused to pay the nation’s new tax of spirits) that flared up in western Pennsylvania in 1791. To hurl this many troops against unorganized malcontents who had burned the government tax collector’s home was massive overkill (500 trained soldiers could have easily put down the Lilliputian revolt), but not when measured by the larger goals the nation’s first president wanted to achieve in decisive, unequivocal fashion.

Washington’s bold action was critically important to the development of the country, establishing the power of the federal government during the nation’s fragile infancy and creating a beneficial precedent that violent disruptions to the civil order would not be tolerated in the new democratic republic. The Obama of his generation, Thomas Jefferson disapproved of President Washington’s police action, viewing it as a heavy-handed over-reaction to the reasonable complaints of those adversely affected by Alexander Hamilton’s new tax on spirits (Jefferson opposed the tax). Just as Obama sympathized with the criminal element which disturbed the peace of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland by caving in to complaints that “militarized” police had provoked violence in the streets, Jefferson sided with lawbreakers who claimed laws enacted by the nation’s duly elected government were tyrannical edicts that justified violent civil unrest.

In striking contrast to Obama and Jefferson stands Theodore Roosevelt, who was arguably the greatest law-and-order president in American history. In recent years, he has been vilified by many right wing pundits as a statist “progressive” (code for bleeding-heart “liberal”) hell bent on achieving “social justice” (a phrase he popularized) for the less well-off in the population. In truth, TR was a no-nonsense conservative cut from the mold of Washington—a hardheaded realist who had no naiveté about the dangers posed to society by the base passions of mankind. Like Washington, he looked with discomfort on the barbaric “tar and feather” tactics Sam Adams used to trigger the American Revolution and was sickened by the ferocious bloodletting perpetrated by the French Revolutionists. Fully embracing the Social Darwinism that was so popular during his own time, he saw society as a fierce “survival of the fittest” competition that would devolve into destructive anarchy if the restraints of civilization were removed.

From his denunciation of the Governor of Illinois, John Altgeld, for pardoning anarchist bombers who triggered the infamous Haymarket labor riot in 1885, to his enthusiastic support for President Grover Cleveland’s use of the U.S. Army to put down the Pullman Strike in 1895, TR consistently supported aggressive means to stamp out and prevent civil unrest. As President of the United States, he believed it was his duty to use whatever means necessary to maintain societal order. There can be no doubt that he would have used the military to quell domestic disturbances during his presidential administration if the need had arisen, as plainly shown by his order to General Scofield in 1902 to use the U.S. Army to end the Anthracite Coal Strike if a peaceful settlement could not be reached in the labor dispute.

Not surprisingly, “police” was one of TR’s favorite words. He used it most famously in 1904 when he announced that the United States would henceforth become the “policeman” of the Western hemisphere, that it would “spank” disorderly Latin American nations that “misbehaved.” The news of this extraordinary “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine produced howls of outrage among the nation’s liberals that the paternalistic decree was insensitive to the feelings of the people who lived south of the border. TR brushed aside the criticism. He feared that if the United States did not exercise hegemonic control over Latin America that European powers (especially Germany) would fill the power void and begin to carve colonies out of South America just as they had carved up Africa during the previous generation.

The “Roosevelt Corollary” proved to be one of TR’s greatest mistakes during his presidency, giving birth to a spirit of hostility in Latin America toward the United States that lingers to this day (Franklin D. Roosevelt was wise to repudiate his predecessor’s corollary when he announced his mild “Good Neighbor” policy in the 1930s). Misguided and abrasive, TR’s decree is nevertheless a useful lens that lets us view the real man. He believed that the maintenance and spread of civilization required that the great nations of the world exercise hegemonic control over their respective “spheres of influence”, “policing” weaker nations that fell within their region of power. Thus his strident advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine and his implicit belief that Britain, Russia, Germany and Japan had similar, albeit unstated, doctrines that gave them license to act as regional hegemons.

The enthusiasm TR showed during his presidency for “policing” those who “misbehaved” was evident early in his career. During the mid-1880s when he was not yet 30 years old, he appointed himself “Deputy Sheriff” of the territory around his cattle ranch in the Dakota Badlands and quickly showed that it was much more than a paper title, tracking down and bringing to justice horse thieves in a dramatic incident that he made sure the nation’s newspapers noticed. Possessing a genius for self-promotion rivaled in our own day only by Donald Trump, he often used flamboyant “police” actions like this to shine the spotlight on himself so that the American people would see him as a heroic opponent of criminality in all its forms.

TR saw himself as a Sheriff of the Old West—a throwback to the rough-and-ready lawmen who had administered frontier justice with a cool head and a loaded gun before civilization spread itself over the continent. Once he reached the White House, he went out of his way to give Bat Masterson (the Sheriff of Dodge City), Pat Garrett (the lawman who killed Billy the Kid) and Seth Bullock (the Sheriff who cleaned up Deadwood) government jobs, declaring that they “correspond to those Vikings, like Hastings and Rollo, who finally served the cause of civilization.” He understood that his Old West heroes had often violated the letter of the law in order to keep the peace, but he was anything but a legalistic Pharisee obsessed with narrow definitions. He forgave their transgressions just as he forgave his own in the same regard throughout his political career because they were, he believed, just like him—righteous men who could be trusted to bend the rules put in place to restrain lesser men.

During TR’s time as Police Commissioner of New York City (1895-1897) he acted in the spirit of these grim lawmen of the Old West, cracking down on crime and vice in unprecedented fashion. He started with his own police force, taking to the city’s streets after midnight to catch police officers sleeping on the job. Next, he enforced the so-called “Raines Law,” which prohibited saloons from selling alcohol on Sundays. The extraordinary action infuriated the city’s large alcohol consuming population, especially German-Americans linked to the brewing industry and “Tammany Hall” Democrats, who used their control of the police to operate an extortion racket that extracted financial kickbacks from saloon owners, who were allowed to open for business on Sunday if they paid off the local Tammany machine boss.

Enforcing laws that others ignored was one of the principal drivers of TR’s career, helping him make newspaper headlines and bolster his image as a corruption fighter. He was in many respects the Eliot Ness of his day—incorruptible and indefatigable in his determination to take down the bad guys. As a U.S. Civil Service Commissioner between 1889 and 1893 he even defied his boss, President Benjamin Harrison, by insisting that the Pendleton Act (which Congress had enacted to curtail the “spoils system”) must be enforced. When Harrison refused to fully enforce the law (he needed the “spoils system” fully operational to win re-election), TR took his case directly to the American people, engaging in a nasty public feud with the chief “spoils-man” of the Harrison administration, Postmaster General John Wanamaker.

Of course, the best example of TR’s enforcing moribund laws came in 1902 when he directed his Attorney General to bring suit against J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities railroad combination. Up until then the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 had been ignored by both Republican (Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley) and Democratic presidential administrations (Grover Cleveland). Blowing the dust off of this long neglected statute, he used it to catapult himself into the nation’s consciousness as a “Trust Buster” engaged in a bruising struggle with sinister “malefactors of great wealth.” As he told his friend Henry Cabot Lodge: “I am a great believer in practical politics, but when my duty is to enforce a law, that law is surely going to be enforced, without fear or favor.”

As much as TR relished enforcing the law, there was one glaring instance when vigorous “policing” was needed in which he sat on his hands and did nothing. This occurred during his presidency when he refused to do anything at all to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which promised all Americans—including blacks in the South—equal protection under the law and the right to vote. On its face his failure in this regard makes him seem hypocritical and racist (he had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution), but in his defense it should be noted that every president in the century that passed between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was guilty of the same dereliction of duty.

For TR, enforcing the law was never an end in itself, but rather the means to a larger end, namely, the orderly functioning of society. In his conservative value system, order came before justice as a priority for statesmen to pursue because he understood that without the former, the latter was not possible. He wanted very much to heal the racial divisions of his time, but knew this was an impossible task given the ingrained attitudes of his generation regarding race. He ignored the 14th and 15th Amendments because he felt that maintaining stability in the segregated South and cementing the region back into the nation as a whole after the destructive whirlwind of Civil War and Reconstruction was more important than beginning what in his words was a pointless “Peter the Hermit crusade” against an intractable problem that he could never solve.

TR’s acceptance of the status quo regarding the nation’s terrible racial problems was a reasonable approach when seen in the context of the century of segregation that followed the Civil War, but it undoubtedly led to one of his greatest mistakes as president—his infamous decision in 1906 to discharge “without honor” a battalion of black soldiers in the U.S. Army accused of “shooting up” the town of Brownsville, Texas. The reason for his unprecedented and unjust action (the accused did not receive a public trial) remains mysterious, but probably was heavily influenced by a horrific race riot that occurred around the same time in Atlanta, in which a white mob killed a dozen blacks to avenge the alleged rape of a white woman. In arbitrarily dismissing the black soldiers, TR appears to have once again been more concerned with not provoking white Southerners than with the pursuit of justice (after the Brownsville case was reopened in 1973, the U.S. government officially reversed TR’s decision and President Nixon signed an order restoring the pensions of the dismissed men).

In strenuously enforcing the law when it was in his power to do so and looking the other way and allowing it to be broken with impunity when he felt a policy of inaction served the greater good, Theodore Roosevelt always acted in what he believed were the best interests of the United States as a whole. Given his stellar law enforcement credentials, we can be sure that were he president today he would not waste time wringing his hands about what equipment the police used to deal with riotous miscreants. If anything, he would likely choose to use an overwhelming show of force just as Washington did to put down the “Whiskey Rebellion” in order to send a loud message that violent unrest would not be tolerated on his watch.

As much as TR would favor using a firm hand, he would not offer knee-jerk approval of the police. Hardheaded realist that he was he understood that all men—even those entrusted with enforcing the law—could succumb to criminality (his record as Police Commissioner of New York City, when he demonstrated zero tolerance for misconduct within the force he led, proves this conclusively). This said, his sympathy would naturally gravitate toward the police and, as long as their conduct was lawful and professional, he would vigorously support them.

After all, TR was one of their fraternity—a Wyatt Earp in spirit who saw the world as an unruly and dangerous Old West town, a Tombstone that needed to be cleaned up and kept peaceful under the gaze of a steely-eyed lawman like himself who was willing to draw his gun if needed to maintain civilization. Fittingly, he carried a concealed revolver on his person during his presidency, making him the last Commander-in-Chief to arm himself with a firearm while in the White House.

Daniel Ruddy is the author of «Theodore the Great: Conservative Crusader,» which defends TR’s historical reputation against a flurry of attacks on his character and policies over the last decade. The book will be published by Regnery in October, 2015.

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