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Archive for the ‘Reconstrucción’ Category

Las elecciones presidenciales de 1876 fueron unas históricas caracterizadas por el fraude, la intimidación y la violencia. Los Republicanos nominaron como su candidato al gobernador de Ohio Rutherford B. Hayes, un político insípido, pero integro. Los Demócratas nominaron al gobernador de Nueva York Samuel J. Tilden. Ambos favorecían el gobierno propio para el Sur (es decir, no interferir ni intervenir en los asuntos políticos del Sur) y, además, la reconstrucción no era una de sus prioridades.

Esta elección ha sido una de las más cerradas en la historia de los Estados Unidos. Hayes obtuvo el 48% de los votos populares y 185 votos electorales, mientras que Tilden le superó en votos populares con el 50% de éstos, pero sólo alcanzó 184 votos electorales. Ninguno de los dos candidatos obtuvo el número de votos electorales necesarios para ser electo presidente, lo que provocó una seria crisis política. Para resolver esta crisis el Congreso nombró un comité compuesto por cinco senadores, cinco representantes y cinco jueces del Tribunal Supremo, ocho Republicanos y siete Demócratas. El comité votó en estricta línea partidista a favor de reconocer la elección de Hayes, lo que generó las protestas  de los Demócratas. Éstos controlaban la Cámara de Representantes y amenazaron con bloquear la juramentación de Hayes. Para superar esta crisis se llevaron a cabo negociaciones secretas que culminaron con un acuerdo en febrero de 1877: los Demócratas aceptaron la elección del Hayes a cambio de que éste nombrara a un sureño en su gabinete, no interfiriera en la política del Sur y se comprometiera a retirar las tropas federales que quedaban en el sur.

Poco tiempo después de su juramentación como Presidente de los Estados Unidos, Hayes ordenó la salida de las tropas federales de Florida y Carolina del Sur. La salida de los soldados conllevó la eventual derrota de los gobernadores Republicanos de ambos estados. Al adoptar una política de no interferencia en los asuntos del Sur, los Republicanos abandonaron a los afroamericanos. Aunque formaban parte de la constitución, las Enmiendas 14 y 15 quedaron sin efecto en el Sur porque fueron sistemáticamente ignoradas por los gobiernos sureños. Con ello murió la era de la Reconstrucción y se inició una era vergonzosa caracterizada por la supremacía de los blancos, la violencia racial, la violación sistemática de los derechos de los ciudadanos afroamericanos y la segregación de los negros.


Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877.

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877.

The Presidential Election of 1876

In the summer of 1876 the United States celebrated a centenary of independence. Although it was a jubilee year, the American Republic was also deeply troubled. The desperate battles of the Civil War had ended more than a decade before; yet Abraham Lincoln’s call for ‘malice toward none’ remained an unfulfilled appeal, as Federal troops continued to occupy some of the former Confederate States. President Ulysses S. Grant’s second term of office was drawing to a close under a barrage of criticism directed at corruption in his government. The coming Presidential election would take place in November.

It promised to be an exciting fight, but no one foresaw that the struggle between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden would result in an unparalleled scandal and bring America perilously close to another civil conflict. Indeed, the roots of the dispute were firmly woven into the Civil War and its tragic aftermath.

On April 9th, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and the guns at Appomattox stopped firing. The Civil War drew to a close. In four years of grim fighting the troops of both sides had developed a respect for each other, a bond of harsh experiences mutually endured. Now Yankees shared their rations with Confederates and traded wartime stories.

The day after the surrender, Abraham Lincoln returned to Washington after a visit to Richmond. A wildly cheering crowd called for a speech, but the President demurred. Instead, he asked the military band to strike up ‘Dixie’. For a brief moment there seemed to be hope of genuine reconciliation. It was unquestionably Lincoln’s fervent hope. Then, only days later, John Wilkes Booth fired a fatal bullet into the President’s head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

Election Cartoon, 1876 Photograph by Granger

With Lincoln’s death, the ‘Radicals’ in the Republican Party gained the upper hand. For men like Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the South fully deserved the revenge they had planned. The bitter years of ‘Reconstruction’ followed. Government tax-collectors enjoyed a bonanza below the Mason-Dixon Line. General Lee’s magnificent home at Arlington was seized for taxes. Properties worth thousands of dollars were sold for a few hundred and Federal Treasury agents laid claim to supposedly abandoned land. Even General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose army made the famous march from Atlanta to the sea, burning and destroying everything in its path, spoke in compassionate terms to a veterans’ gathering shortly after the war:

It was in this atmosphere that white Southerners fought to regain control of South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Florida and other states of the former Confederacy; the newly emancipated slaves fought for a place in a society previously denied them; and political scavengers fought to hang on to the spoils of war. Gradually, however, the South returned to the control of its native white population. In doing so, it became more solidly attached to the Democratic Party than ever before.

Due to the presence of Federal troops and officials in positions of power, Ulysses S. Grant was able to carry eight southern states for the Republican Party in the Presidential election of 1868. Grant won a second term in 1872, but this time only six southern states were in the Republican camp. The grip of Radical Republican power was fading. Perhaps more significant, the immediate post-war zeal in the North for African-American welfare had diminished.

 

Republican election poster

Republican election poster, 1876.

 

As the election of 1876 approached, Grant’s Republican administration reeled under a heavy attack by the press when a great whisky scandal broke. Western distillers had been flagrantly evading Federal taxes, and Grant’s own private secretary, General Babcock, was implicated. The President’s enemies gleefully pointed to corruption in the White House. Instead of dissociating himself from Babcock, Grant leaped to his defence.

Indeed, Grant displayed an almost incredible loyalty to dubious colleagues during his Presidency. His support of Babcock largely contributed to an acquittal. But this was just part of the rapidly mounting troubles faced by the Republican Party.

In March 1876, just eight months before the election, Secretary of War William Belknap was charged with malfeasance in office by the House of Representatives. Rather than remove Belknap from his post, Grant merely accepted the cabinet member’s resignation. One month later it was James G. Blaine’s turn to embarrass the Administration. As Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Blaine was in a most influential position. When the press charged that he had taken favours from the Union Pacific Railroad, the tag of ‘Grantism’ received new life as a synonym for political avarice.

The scandals could not have come at a more inopportune time, for the Republicans desperately needed a politically untarnished standard-bearer in the coming election and Blaine was a strong candidate. Despite the publicity, Blaine’s name was prominent when the Republicans met at Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 14th to nominate a contender for the Presidency. Recognising that public attention had to be focused on something other than the Administration’s record, Blaine attacked the South and stirred up fears of a new war. In doing so, he alienated those members of his party who sought a genuine rapprochement with the old Confederacy. On the seventh ballot, he lost the nomination to a ‘dark horse’ candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Hayes was a compromise between the extreme wings of the Party. Above all, his personal record and political integrity could not be seriously challenged.

The 53-year-old Hayes had a good, if not spectacular, background. Born in Delaware, Ohio, he had been raised by a widowed mother who, fortunately, enjoyed financial security. He received a degree from the Harvard Law School in 1845 and subsequently accepted a number of fugitive slave cases. During the Civil War, Hayes rose to the rank of brevet major-general of volunteers, participated in many actions and was severely wounded. While the war still raged he was elected to Congress. He was later elected Governor of Ohio on three separate occasions and put through a number of reforms.

In accepting the nomination, Hayes vowed to end the spoils system and called for an end to ‘the distinction between North and South in our common country’. This conciliatory statement was in sharp contrast to Resolution Number 16 of the Party Platform which went so far as to question the loyalty of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. This allegation reflected the presence of Congressmen who had fought for the Confederacy.

The Democrats had no problem in devising their campaign strategy. The entire nation was aware of the Administration’s shortcomings. Corruption was the issue and the Democratic Party promised reform. On June 27th they held their convention in St Louis, Missouri. In an auditorium jammed with 5,000 people, Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York scored a landslide victory on the second ballot.

 

Samuel J. Tilden is announced as the Democratic presidential nominee

Samuel J. Tilden is announced as the Democratic presidential nominee.

 

Tilden was a unique figure, and certainly one of the most interesting to cross the American political scene. This frail, cold, articulate bachelor commanded a crusading zeal from his supporters. As a boy, Tilden was withdrawn and showed little inclination to mix with young people. Politics, however, fascinated him and his father fostered that interest. At the age of 15 he used his own money to buy Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. By 1841 he was a qualified lawyer with a continuing and consuming interest in politics. His brilliant grasp of political matters brought him to the attention of Democratic leaders who sought his counsel. For some time Tilden studiously avoided candidacy for high public office, but his own abilities soon brought him national recognition.

A particularly significant event was Tilden’s exposure and prosecution of New York’s notorious racketeer, ‘Boss’ William M. Tweed. His popularity soared and he was elected Governor of New York. Then he broke up the Canal Ring, a group of crooks and unscrupulous politicians. Tilden’s name became associated with integrity in politics. This was just what the Democratic Party wanted as a contrast to the Republican Administration.

The battle lines were clearly defined. Left to themselves, it is possible that Hayes and Tilden might have kept the election campaign free from distortion of facts and bitter personal invective, but it was not to be. Tilden was subjected to a number of damaging of charges. There seemed to be no limit to the accusations: that he was a liar, swindler, perjurer, counterfeiter and even an absurd claim that he had been in league with the infamous Tweed. In line with their basic campaign strategy, the Republicans alleged that Tilden had supported the Confederacy, the right of secession and the continuation of slavery. This all stemmed from his opposition to Lincoln in 1860, but that was because he was a Democrat and feared a Republican victory would bring disaster to the United States. This feeling had no bearing on his fundamental loyalty to the Union, and once the war began he had urged the quick suppression of the Confederacy.

As election day approached, excitement grew with each rally and parade. It was, after all, the centenary of American independence. Even politically apathetic citizens came out for Hayes or Tilden with great enthusiasm. But on polling day, November 7th, calm prevailed as people made their way to voting centres. It was a stillness soon to be shattered. Hayes’ hopes began to sink as swing states such as Connecticut, Indiana and New Jersey went to Tilden. When New York finally fell into Tilden’s camp, Hayes admitted defeat to those around him and went to bed.

Tilden was not only leading in the popular vote: he had 184 of the far more important electoral votes to Hayes’ 166. The 19 votes of South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana were had not yet been declared, but they were in the heartland of the Democratic South. At the Republican National Headquarters, exhausted and dispirited party workers began to go home. On the morning of November 8th, the press of both parties was crowded with news of Tilden’s victory. Even the militantly Republican New York Tribune conceded the election.

The New York Times, however, would do no more than admit a Democratic lead. Two days after the election, John C. Reid, the newspaper’s influential editor, sat in the editorial room with two assistants. It was after 3am when a message arrived from the State Democratic Committee: ‘Please give your estimate of the electoral votes secured by Tilden. Answer at once.’ Reid was astounded. If they urgently needed such information, then the Democrats were not certain of victory. In a matter of minutes he conceived a scheme to wrest the election away from Tilden and put Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House. Tilden had 18 more electoral votes than Hayes, but if the 19 from South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida were secured by the Republicans, Hayes would win by one vote, 185 to 184.

Tilden (left) and Hayes

Samuel J. Tilden (left) and Rutherford B. Hayes (right).

Reid, accompanied by a Republican official, hurried into the night and awakened Zachariah Chandler, National Republican Chairman. Chandler agreed to Reid’s proposal: telegrams must be sent immediately to Republican officials in the three states, with the following message: ‘Hayes is elected if we have carried South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. Can you hold your state? Answer immediately.’ The meaning was clear: those states were to be held at any cost. At the same time, Republican headquarters proclaimed Hayes’ election.

The key to the plot’s success lay in the state canvassing boards. They had the power to certify the votes and cast out those that, in the board’s opinion, were questionable. The need for absolute honesty by the boards in exercising their power was self evident, but the personnel of some made comedy of that requirement. Of course, all of the boards were Republican and backed by Federal troops.

Initially, Hayes dissociated himself from the plan, saying: ‘I think we are defeated … I am of the opinion that the Democrats have carried the country and elected Tilden.’ A few weeks later, however, he changed his mind: ‘I have no doubt that we are justly and legally entitled to the Presidency.’

From the beginning there was an outside chance that Hayes could have carried South Carolina and Louisiana on the strength of votes from African-Americans and ‘carpetbaggers’ (a pejorative term for Northerners who moved South during the Reconstruction). Florida’s heavily Democratic white majority, however, made that state a dim prospect for Republican hopes. But they had to have Florida or Tilden would win by 188 to 181. During the actual election campaign, all three states witnessed a wide variety of attempts by both sides to cow voters and fraud was rampant. In one shameful tactic, the Democrats tried to distribute ballots with the Republican emblem prominently displayed over the names of Democratic candidates. It was worth the chance in the hope of picking up votes from illiterate voters. On the Republican side, one inspired person devised ‘little jokers’. These were tiny Republican tickets inside a regular ballot. A partisan clerk could slip them into the ballot box with little chance of being detected.

In Louisiana, Tilden held a comfortable majority over Hayes. And in New Orleans, the Democratic elector with the smallest plurality had more than 6,000 votes over his Republican opponent. The canvassing board solved the problem in that state by simply throwing out 13,000 Tilden votes against only 2,000 for Hayes. Then the electors for Hayes were certified.

The prelude to the election in South Carolina was a bloody affair. The Governor was Daniel H. Chamberlain of Massachusetts, a strict dogmatist on the race question and thoroughly loathed by white South Carolinians. In addition to the Presidential election, there was a gubernatorial race. The Democrats were running a war hero, former Confederate General Wade Hampton. ‘Rifle clubs’ were organised over the entire state by Hampton’s supporters and there were numerous clashes with African-American groups. As far back as July 8th, there had been a sharp fight in Aiken County at which African-Americans suffered a severe defeat. Chamberlain appealed to President Grant for help. Grant described the rifle clubs as ‘insurgents’ and sent all readily available troops to South Carolina. The resultant fury at this action was compounded when the Republican canvassing board ensured the certification of Hayes’ electors.

The Election of 1876 & The End of Reconstruction

Florida was the most critical problem. As the polling booths closed, each side claimed victory. Once again, the canvassing board held the decision in its hands. The three-man board was dominated by two Republicans, Florida’s Secretary of State and its Comptroller. The third man was the Democratic Attorney General. The board had the right to exclude ‘irregular, false or fraudulent’ votes. In a complete travesty of integrity, the board voted for Hayes by virtue of its Republican majority. Thus, Florida’s key electoral votes went to Hayes. The Republican Governor certified them with the official blessing of the state. The outraged Democrats held a meeting and had the Attorney General certify the Tilden electors. With this action, a new and dangerous complication entered the scene. Democrats, claiming dishonesty by the canvassing boards, were certifying their own electors by whatever legal or quasi-legal means they could. To further complicate matters, Florida Democrats elected G. F. Drew as Governor and he appointed a new board of canvassers who promptly judged Tilden’s electors to be victorious. In South Carolina, where Wade Hampton had been elected Governor, there were unqualified demands to disenfranchise the Hayes electors.

As a precaution, General Grant ordered Federal troops into all three state capitals, directing General Sherman ‘to see that the proper and legal boards of canvassers are unmolested in the performance of their duties’. That meant Hayes would win. At this point, Samuel Tilden’s followers almost begged him to denounce the plot publicly, but he would no nothing to prejudice the legal process. This is somewhat difficult to understand in view of his previous anti-fraud successes.

The Senate and House of Representatives convened for the second session of the 44th Congress on December 4th, 1876. It was just two days before the date set for Presidential electors chosen in each state to meet and declare their choice for President and Vice-President of the United States. It was the responsibility of each state Governor and Secretary of State to affix the official state seal to the voting certificates and send them to the President of the Senate in Washington D.C. who would then count them before a joint session of Congress.

Since the Senate was controlled by Republicans, the Democratic House demanded the right to decide which votes were valid. The Senate, understandably, refused. Here was an incredible situation; each day bringing the United States closer to March 4th, the date when Grant’s term expired. Who would succeed him and how would it be done? Rumblings of a new civil war rolled ominously across America. There were drills and parades and wartime units began to reform. Even cool heads discussed the possibility of the National Guard, under the command of Democratic Governors in most states, marching on Washington to install Tilden by force, if necessary. In that case, the Regular Army under Grant would oppose the Guard as Hayes had been ‘legally’ elected.

Amazon.com: Presidential Campaign 1876 Ncontemporary American Newspaper  Cartoon Attacking William Eaton Chandler Who Directed Republican Tactics In  The Rutherford B Hayes And Samuel J Tilden Election In Which Twe: Posters &  PrintsIt was an unthinkable prospect. Fortunately, there were men of influence on both sides who saw that a peaceful solution was absolutely mandatory. On December 14th, the House appointed a committee to approach the Senate in the hope that a tribunal could be created; one ‘whose authority none can question and whose decision all will accept as final’. After much debate, an Electoral Commission was approved. Congress proceeded to set up a group of 15 men; five from the Senate, five from the House and five from the Supreme Court. Presumably, the Court Justices would be non-partisan. Both Hayes and Tilden declared the Commission unconstitutional, but they reluctantly agreed to accept its verdict.

It was clear to everyone what would happen without the Commission. Republican Senator Thomas Ferry of Michigan, presiding officer of the Senate, would open the certificates before a joint session and declare Hayes the winner by 185 to 184 electoral votes. The House would then immediately adjourn to its own chambers where Speaker Samuel Randall would declare no electoral majority and throw the election into a vote by each state delegation in the House. That would assure Tilden’s victory, and on March 4th, 1877 both Hayes and Tilden would be in Washington to be inaugurated as President of the United States. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York described this route as a ‘Hell-gate paved and honeycombed with dynamite’. It was no understatement.

The Commission held its first session just four weeks before the inauguration. Democratic members of the Commission pressed for a searching examination of the honesty of the canvassing boards. The Republican members claimed that the legal state authorities had filed legitimate certificates and Congress had no power to interfere.

The Commission finally voted along party lines with the decision going to Hayes, 8 to 7. On Friday, March 2nd at 4am, the Senate awarded the last certificate to Hayes. It was just two days before the inauguration. The fury of the South was matched by its Democratic allies in the North. All eyes turned to Samuel J. Tilden. If he claimed that the will of the American people had been frustrated by partisan duplicity and fraud, then America faced civil war. Instead, Tilden said: ‘It is what I expected.’

Electoral map of 1876: Republican wins in red, Democrat in blue, non-states in grey.

Electoral map of 1876: Republican wins in red, Democrat in blue, non-states in grey.

 

Open conflict might still have been a possibility except for a meeting that has since been the subject of much speculation. One week before the inauguration, Southern Democrats and Republicans met at the Wormley Hotel in Washington in an effort to find some compromise before it was too late. There is ample evidence to suggest that a quid pro quo was reached; the South to agree to Hayes’ election if the North would agree to abandon all efforts to maintain carpetbag regimes in the South. That meant withdrawal of Federal troops. In return, the South presumably agreed not to take reprisals against African-Americans or carpetbag officials.

For that matter, the South and its Democratic friends in the North already held a powerful sword over the head of the United States Army. They attached a clause to the Army Appropriations Bill that outlawed the use of Federal troops to sustain state governments in the South without Congressional approval. When the Senate refused the clause, the House simply adjourned and left the Army without funds to pay soldiers. Morale collapsed and the end of Reconstruction was at hand.

After the decision, Tilden commented: ‘I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit for having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares.’ That summer he sailed for Europe for a year’s vacation. Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office in private, kissing the open Bible at Psalm 118:13 ‘… the Lord helped me’.

There was no inaugural parade or ball. There was little to celebrate.

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El H-Net Book Channel acaba de publicar un ensayo bibliográfico que llamó poderosamente mi atención, ya que enfoca la historiografía reciente de las implicancias internacionales de la guerra civil estadounidense. Escrito por Chase McCarter, candidato doctoral en la Universidad de Nuevo México, este trabajo enfoca el impacto en América Latina de la guerra civil estadoununidense y del periodo de la Reconstrucción.


 The US Civil War Era and Latin America

It would be incorrect to argue that scholars have never considered the international dimensions of the US Civil War Era. However, the vast majority of the tens of thousands of books written about the antebellum US, the war, and Reconstruction usually foreground the domestic elements. In addition, the scholars who considered the international implications tended to focus on the relationship between the US and European powers. Recent studies, however, have begun to pay more attention to Latin America. This is particularly important because, as the author discusses in this essay, historians of the US Civil War Era and of Latin America have a great deal to say to each other. Being more attentive to Latin America also has important contemporary relevance in light of the persistent tensions among the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Chase McCarter is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of New Mexico and resource editor for H-CivWar. He studies the Civil War-era South with particular focus on the postwar migration of ex-Confederates to Latin America. –Book Channel Guest Editor Evan Rothera

In the late 1960s, US historians became increasingly interested in internationalizing the history of the US Civil War era. In his essay for C. Vann Woodward’s 1968 anthology, The Comparative Approach to American History, David M. Potter argued that the turmoil of the US Civil War era and the European revolutions of 1848 were both the product of nationalist struggles and were equally critical in the survival of liberal nationalism around the globe.1 Ian Tyrrell’s call in 1991 for a new history that decentered exceptionalist narratives in American historical writing gave birth to the transnational turn in US history and further influenced historians of the US Civil War era to explore the impact of the period’s major events outside the confines of US national borders. For example, Robert E. May’s anthology The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim (1995) brought together studies by Howard Jones, R. J. M. Blackett, Thomas Schoonover, and James M. McPherson to reveal the impact of the US Civil War on European and Latin American nations. Since the mid-1990s, scholars like Enrico Dal Lago, Peter S. Onuf, Andre Fleche, Timothy M. Roberts, Patrick J. Kelly, and a wave of others have deepened historical understanding of the US Civil War era by thinking about this period through a transnational framework.2

But historians still have more ground to cover. The role of Latin America in the ideologies, debates, and events that transpired in the United States during the Civil War era has been relatively understudied by historians. Historians have directed much more attention to European happenings and their impact on the United States during this period than to Latin American ones. But there is a growing interest in the role of Latin America in the coming of the Civil War, the war itself, and Reconstruction.

New histories of the US sectional crisis frame the prospect of slavery’s expansion in Latin America as a central issue of contention between proslavery advocates and abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s. Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of America Foreign Policy (2016) argues that Latin America was most certainly in the sights of proslavery advocates in the US government during the antebellum period. Karp contends that southern slave-owning elites were not an isolated class of individuals who clung to the dying institution of slavery in the US South. Rather, they were globally minded people and kept a close eye on threats to slavery across the Americas, especially in Cuba and Brazil, whom they saw as allies in an international fight against the forces of abolition. They also believed that the continuity of slavery in the Americas was key to the future prosperity and power of the United States (p. 2).

The mind-set of southern slaveholders Karp depicts in his study was related to the emergence of  what Dale Tomich labels “the second slavery” in his book, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (2003). “Second slavery” describes the remaking of slavery in concert with the expansion of industrial capitalism and the creation of new, highly profitable slave-based zones of commodity production throughout the Americas during the early nineteenth century.3 Throughout the book, Karp details how proslavery advocates within the US government sculpted foreign policy and the US military in efforts to strengthen and preserve this new form of slavery in the United States and Latin America. For the most part, proslavery advocates were successful at doing so until the institution collapsed with the defeat of the Confederacy during the Civil War (p. 3).

Robert E. May’s book Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America (2013) is his latest addition in a forty-plus-year career of thinking about the transnational dynamics of the US Civil War era. In this study, May asserts that the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates featured a clash of ideas over slavery’s expansion in Latin America. Lincoln and Douglas’s feud over this topic also embodied a larger breakdown in relations between the North and South, which contributed to the outbreak of Civil War. Throughout the text, May traces the ideological evolution of both men on the issue of slavery’s expansion in Latin America. For Douglas, the acquisition of territory in Latin America was necessary for the growth and progress of the United States. Under his philosophy of popular sovereignty, Douglas argued that future US colonists in Latin America should have the right to establish slavery in their territories if they desired. Contrary to Douglas, Lincoln held an explicitly anti-expansionist position toward Latin America and believed that the prospect of slavery’s expansion there, where it did not yet exist, would put the Union in mortal danger. In fact, May explains that throughout Lincoln’s presidency he maintained an anti-expansionist attitude toward Latin America. Lincoln also favored exporting African Americans to colonies in Latin America where he believed that they could obtain a level of freedom and equality unavailable to them in the United States. Lincoln’s articulation of this position on Latin America during the Lincoln-Douglas debates informed Southerners that a Lincoln victory in the election of 1860 would destroy any hopes they had of expanding slavery southward. May suggests that the desire to preserve future prospects of expanding slavery into Latin America heavily influenced Southerners’ choice to secede in the wake of Lincoln’s victory. Overall, May’s analysis of the Lincoln-Douglas debates adds a transnational dimension to the sectional crisis and the outbreak of the Civil War by centering the future of slavery’s expansion in Latin America as a leading issue that contributed to the breakdown between North and South.

Rethinking the coming of the US Civil War in a transnational context has also pushed historians to explore the interconnections of the war itself with concurrent conflicts of the 1860s. Don H. Doyle has been at the center of scholarly efforts to do so. Most notably, his book The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014) categorizes the US Civil War as part of a broader struggle for democracy throughout the Atlantic world. His latest contribution, an edited anthology, American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe, and the Crisis of the 1860s (2017), takes a more direct look at the role of the US Civil War in Latin America. Specifically, American Civil Wars demonstrates that the 1860s was a decade of multiple civil wars, separatist rebellions, slave uprisings, and emancipations throughout the Americas. Furthermore, democratic republics throughout the Americas defeated the attempted reconquest of the hemisphere by European monarchies.

For example, Stève Sainlaude’s essay, “France’s Grand Design and the Confederacy,” argues that the US Civil War neutralized the United States in Latin America as it dealt with the Confederacy. The war presented Napoleon III with an opportunity to reassert France’s former colonial empire in the Americas, which he tried and failed to do in the Second French Intervention in Mexico. This largely resulted from the Union’s victory in the Civil War and the US federal government’s financial and military aid to Benito Juárez’s republican army.

The victories of democratic republics throughout the Americas in the 1860s also prevented the destruction of the international antislavery movement. Rafael Marquese and Matt D. Childs’s respective contributions to this anthology show that the defeat of the Confederacy and abolition of slavery in the United States paved the way for the institution’s demise in Cuba and Brazil. Childs maintains that the US Civil War was the crisis that placed the possibility of abolition on the political horizon for Cuban slaveowners. Likewise, Marquese uses the analogy of a “protective wall” to describe the relationship of US slavery to Brazilian slavery. When this wall came down, it energized an already present and potent antislavery moment in Brazil, which would be vital to the passing of gradual emancipation laws in the 1870s and the final emancipation law in 1888.

In sum, this anthology reframes the US Civil War as a mere chapter in a hemisphere-wide and decade-long struggle between the forces of republicanism and monarchism and between proponents of slavery and emancipation. The Latin American conflicts of the 1860s that scholars have entangled with the US Civil War show that the war was anything but exceptional. Yet this study also emphasizes that the outbreak of the war was a critical factor in the eruption of conflicts in Latin America and that the outcome of the war was essential to the preservation of republicanism in the region.

This turn in the literature has naturally led scholars of US Reconstruction to branch out toward Latin America as well. United States Reconstruction across the Americas (2019), edited by William A. Link, establishes that post-Civil War global political, social, and economic developments entangled and influenced the central elements of Reconstruction (i.e., emancipation, nationalism, and the spread of market capitalism). Additionally, the emergence of the United States in the post-Civil War period as a global power was contingent on developments in several nations throughout the Americas.

Chapter 1, “The Cotton and Coffee Economies of the United States and Brazil, 1865-1904,” by Rafael Marquese, argues that the seemingly disparate transitions from slavery to free labor in Brazil and the US South were quite related. In the aftermath of US emancipation, planters in both nations sought a means by which to transition from slavery to free labor while maintaining the same level of exploitation. Brazilian planters, who saw the end of Brazilian chattel slavery on the horizon after the US Civil War, viewed sharecropping and tenancy in the South as a loss of planters’ power over laborers and the system of production. As an alternative, Brazilian planters instituted the colonato system, which preserved planter power over “the organization of labor and landscape management” (p. 29). Effectively, Brazilian planters were able to maintain some key exploitative elements of slavery under this labor system. Through this example, Marquese shows how the reconfiguration of capitalism during Reconstruction in the United States precipitated change in Latin American countries like Brazil.

From a different direction, Edward B. Rugemer’s essay, “Jamaica’s Morant Bay Rebellion and the Making of Radical Reconstruction,” illustrates the impact of the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion on Reconstruction policymaking. The reports of the violent rebellion in Jamaica back in the United States, and fears that the same could occur in the South, influenced Congress to enact legislation and enforcement measures (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and Reconstruction Acts of 1867) that would ensure political rights for black men and a future for them in the post-emancipation United States. Rugemer emphasizes the great consideration that Republicans gave to the meaning of the rebellion in terms of its implications for the course of Reconstruction, which further shows the direct impact the rebellion had on the shaping of Reconstruction policy.

In terms of diplomacy, Don H. Doyle’s essay, “Reconstruction and Anti-Imperialism: The United States and Mexico,” examines US foreign policy in the aftermath of the US Civil War. Doyle focuses on the US role in expelling the French from Mexico in 1867 as an indication of “spirit of republican camaraderie” that was inherent to US foreign policy in Latin America during the Reconstruction Era (pp. 6-7).

The transnational framing of US Reconstruction literature has also contributed to further scholarly interest in the ex-Confederate migration to Latin America. Todd W. Wahlstrom’s book The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War (2015) argues that the desire to create surrogate Souths in Mexico was not the driving force behind the migration of a few thousand ex-Confederates to the nation between 1865 and 1866. Rather, it was the pursuit of economic prosperity, which they hoped could be obtained through the creation of agricultural and commercially driven colonies and the exploitation of Mexico’s transborder economic opportunities. For these Southerners, remaining in the US South was not the sole focus of their vision for life after the Civil War. Wahlstrom explains that they believed their future was contingent on the creation of an “entrepôt of southern commerce” through the colonization of Latin America (p. xvii). This dream inevitably died with the failure of Southern colonization in places like Mexico, Brazil, Belize, and Venezuela, but Wahlstrom argues that it marked an important stepping stone in US efforts to “bridge economic borders” in Latin America during the second half of the nineteenth century (p. xxvii).

The literature review in this essay reflects the efforts of scholars of the US Civil War era to incorporate Latin America into what historians have traditionally described as the exceptional history of the United States. Taken together, these studies present strong evidence for the argument that the ideologies and events most identified with the coming of the US Civil War, the war itself, and Reconstruction were deeply entangled with occurrences and ideologies present in Latin America at the same time. More broadly, they demonstrate that US economic, social, and political development during the nineteenth century was internationally interdependent.

Notes

[1]. David M. Potter, “Civil War,” in The Comparative Approach to American History, ed. C. Vann Woodward (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 139.

[2]. See Enrico Dal Lago, Agrarian Elites: American Slaveholders and Southern Italian Landowners, 1815-1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005), and Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Peter S. Onuf and Nicholas Onuf, Nations, Markets, and War: Modern History and the American Civil War (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006); Timothy Mason Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Pres, 2009).

[3]. Dale W. Tomich, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 61.


Suggested Readings

Dawsey, Cyrus B., and James M. Dawsey. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Doyle, Don H. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Fleche, Andre M. The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Guterl, Matthew Pratt. American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Jarnagin, Laura. A Confluence of Transatlantic Networks: Elites, Capitalism, and Confederate Migration to Brazil. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2008.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The Lost Continent of Abraham Lincoln.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 2 (June 2019): 223-48.

——. “The North American Crisis of the 1860s.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 3 (September 2012): 337-68.

Mahoney, Harry Thayer. Mexico and the Confederacy, 1860-1867. San Francisco: Austin & Winfield, 1998.

May, Robert E. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

——. ed. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1995.

——. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Roark, James L. Masters Without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

Rolle, Andrew F. The Lost Cause: Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Rugemer, Edward Bartlett. The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

Scott, Rebecca J. Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Stevenson, Louise L. Lincoln in the Atlantic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Eric Foner es uno de los más importantes historiadores estadounidenses. Profesor de Columbia University y ganador de premios tan prestigiosos como el Lincoln, Bancroft y  Pulitzer, Foner ha dedicado su  carrera al estudio del Partido Republicano,  la esclavitud, la guerra civil y, sobre todo, la Reconstrucción. Es a este periodo posterior a la guerra civil que Foner dedica su último libro, Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (Norton, 2019). Enfocado en el significado de las tres enmiendas constitucionales aprobadas entre 1865 y 1870 (XIII, XIV y XV), Foner plantea que la Reconstrucción cambió radicalmente el ordenamiento político estadounidense. Al acabar con la esclavitud, definir la ciudadanía y garantizar el derecho al voto, tales enmiendas, propone Foner, conllevaron un renacer de la nación estadounidense.

Comparto con mis lectores la transcripción de una entrevista que el  historiador Ed Ayers, del podcasts Backstory, le hiciera a Foner sobre su último libro y otros temas. La entrevista se puede escuchar aquí

February 18, 1865 Harper’s Weekly cartoon depicting celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. Source: Internet Archive.

HOW RECONSTRUCTION TRANSFORMED THE CONSTITUTION

A FEATURE CONVERSATION WITH PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING HISTORIAN ERIC FONER

If you turn on the news, you’re likely to find a heated debate about big issues, from citizenship to voting rights. For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, these issues are at the heart of what are often called the “Reconstruction Amendments”: the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. They were passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870, respectively. And if you ask Eric, they’ve been misinterpreted and overlooked for generations.

On this episode, Ed sits down with Eric Foner, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, to talk about public perceptions of Reconstruction, the landmark amendments to the Constitution and how they have the power to change the country today. Foner’s new book is The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Download a pdf of the full transcript here.

Speaker 1: Major funding for Backstory is provided by an anonymous donor, the National Endowment for The Humanities and the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial foundation.

Ed Ayers: From Virginia Humanities, this is Backstory. This is Backstory, the show that explains the history behind today’s headlines. I’m Ed Ayers. If you’re new to the podcast, my colleagues, Joanne Freeman, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly, and myself are all historians and each week we explore the history of one topic that’s been in the news.

Speaker 3: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime shall exist within the United States or any place subject to [crosstalk 00:00:48]-

Speaker 4: All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein [crosstalk 00:00:58]-

Ed Ayers: What you’re hearing are portions of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US constitution.

Speaker 4: Which shall outweigh the privileges or [crosstalk 00:01:02]-

Speaker 3: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.

Speaker 5: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Ed Ayers: They’re known as the Reconstruction Amendments passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870 respectively. And if you ask Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner, they make up a second founding of the United States of America. The amendments are so important, Eric has made them the subject of his brand new book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. He says they have the power to bring progressive change on deep seated issues from citizenship to voting rights if only we’d give them their due. So today on Backstory, we’re bringing you a feature interview I did with Eric about his new book. It joins a host of others he’s written including Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, and The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. We talked about many things from public perceptions of Reconstruction to what Eric and I learned about the period when we were in elementary school. But I started our conversation by asking Eric why he felt we needed a book about the Reconstruction Amendments right now.

Foner

Eric Foner

Eric Foner: Two things; one the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, I argue and I think many scholars would agree, really transformed the constitution and are essential to understanding the Civil War era and indeed our current situation today, and yet they are not widely known or understood. Even though they really are central documents of American history, they don’t occupy the same place in our historical imagination as other key documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation. Your man or woman in the street has probably never heard of the people who wrote these amendments, people like John Bingham and James Ashley and Henry Wilson. They’re not part of the Pantheon of key figures in American history. I just wanted to draw attention to why they’re important, why those people are important, why the amendments are important.

Eric Foner: But secondly, as I said, I lecture a lot, as you do, to all sorts of audiences within the university, outside, or people who are just interested in history and I’ve found that there’s very little understanding of what these amendments were attempting to accomplish. Even in law schools, I hate to say it, I’m not a lawyer or a law scholar, I find that there’s a lot of misconception and even, dare I say it, on the halls of the Supreme Court. One of my arguments is that there’s a long history of what I can think of as misconceived Supreme Court decisions that are still embedded in our jurisprudence. If my book can help nudge the nine members of the Supreme Court toward a more expansive vision of these amendments, then I think that would be all to the good.

Ed Ayers: Yeah, that would be quite a return on your investment here. So you talk about being out in the world talking about Reconstruction, and I find that people don’t even claim to know anything about Reconstruction. My joke is that Reconstruction happens over the winter break and between volume one and volume two, and that it-

Eric Foner: They don’t reach it in the first semester if you’re teaching the survey of American history or if it’s the beginning of the second. They scoot right through it because there’s a heck of a lot of history coming along afterwards, but that’s a step forward Ed. You and I know that not that long ago when you mentioned Reconstruction, people knew “about it.” What they knew was that it was a period of misgovernment, corruption, the lowest point in the saga of American democracy. And that the reason for that was one, vindictive Northern radicals who wanted to fasten their power on the South, but also the former slaves who were just incapable of exercising democratic rights. They were manipulated by whites. They were childlike, and that giving them the right to vote was a disastrous mistake.

71DfIQ9brpL._SY741_Eric Foner: That played an important part in the ideological edifice of the Jim Crow era. The supposed horrors of Reconstruction were part of the justification for taking the right to vote away from black men in the late 19th, early 20th Century. That people no longer generally hold that view and actually know little is better. That at least now if people are interested, they can go at it with a fresh, a clean slate rather than having to disabuse themselves of a lot of mythologies.

Ed Ayers: That’s a very optimistic interpretation. I like that. Now it’s my sense that a lot of people still take their general idea about Reconstruction from Gone with the Wind, in which we have this great saga of that in which the victim is a slave holding white woman from the South. We’re sympathetic with her and it creates the impression that Reconstruction began immediately after the end of the war and the devastation there. Is this your experience? Do you think that people are still filtering this through … What do they think they know about Reconstruction? Where does it come from?

Eric Foner: Yeah. Well certainly Gone with the Wind or if you want to push back further Birth of a Nation, which of course is even much more pernicious because it’s a direct defense and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, Gone with the Wind is probably the most popular American movie ever made and it’s constantly being shown on Turner movie channels. Look, people don’t watch Gone with the Wind for a history lesson on Reconstruction. They watch so they can trace out Scarlet O’Hara’s ups and downs. But yes, the Klan is in there, the whole idea that black people were just ignorant and incapable of taking part of democracy is in there. Whether it’s that or just what you learned in school.

Eric Foner: I’m old enough to have learned in high school, and this was in Long Island, the suburbs of New York. I learned the old Dunning School view that Reconstruction was the worst period in all of American history. I think today most scholars see Reconstruction, or at least I’ve tried to argue, as a important moment in the history of democracy, the first effort to really make the United States an interracial democracy, which it had never been before the Civil War and then would not be again that until our own era. The tragedy of Reconstruction is not that it was attempted, but that it failed, and that left to subsequent generations, including our own, this question of racial justice in America.

Ed Ayers: Yeah. I should say in full disclosure, you learned about Reconstruction on Long Island in New York. I learned about it at Andrew Johnson Elementary School in East Tennessee, and I’m not kidding. There’s only two in the United States, and I was at one of them, but I had my students and for a class here at the University of Richmond go online and say, “What do we think about Reconstruction? What’s the general sense that you get?” And they came back with one word; failure. That’s a word that you used, a description right now. And so what’s the consequences of thinking of Reconstruction as failure? It’s been a great continuity, as you’re saying that people who hated Reconstruction defined it as a failure and people who admire it defined it as a failure. Does that have any cost?

9781912128228Eric Foner: I think that’s a great question and I will withdraw my word failure. You’re absolutely right. It is so embedded. That idea is so embedded that it’s just impossible to avoid. The problem with declaring Reconstruction a failure is that then it makes the question at hand why did it fail, rather than what it seek to accomplish and how much of that was accomplished? If you define Reconstruction as the effort to create a utopian society, it failed. We haven’t had one yet, and certainly if you go a little less expansive than that and just say the effort to put into the laws and constitution and to enforce them, the basic rights of citizens for all Americans, including African-Americans, well it’s not exactly that it failed, but it didn’t become secure enough that later on these rights couldn’t be taken away.

Eric Foner: But of course Reconstruction was many, many things and not all of them were a failure. Reconstruction saw the creation of the black church as really a major, major institution throughout the country. That’s still here and as you well know, the black church has been the springboard for all sorts of activism among African Americans. Schooling, which was denied to almost all black people before the Civil War, this is when the public school systems of the South were created. This was when the black colleges were created. Those survived and so the black family, which had been it really disrupted in many ways by slavery now is consolidated and becomes the foundation of black communities. That didn’t go away when Reconstruction ended.

Eric Foner: So yeah, we should amend failure at least to say, well, in what realms did it fail and in what realms did it succeed? Because my definition of Reconstruction is not a specific time period, let’s say 1865 to 1877 or other people have other dates, but as a historical process. How does the United States deal with the end of slavery?

Ed Ayers: As we’re thinking really about the place of Reconstruction in the current American imagination, we have seen signs of awakened acknowledgement and interest in it. You and I both were fortunate to be in the Henry Louis Gates series on the Reconstruction on PBS, and people seem to really engage with that. So where do you think this interest is coming from?

Eric Foner: Well, I, like your students, I look around and say, “Well, how is …” I look particularly at how Reconstruction is referred to in the press by journalists almost offhandedly. It’s not that long ago. I remember in the 1990s, a distinguished, I’m not going to name any names, but a pretty distinguished journalist for the New York Times wrote a little article about the Bosnian Civil War. And he said, “Well, I hope that after the Bosnian Civil War is over that the victorious side just doesn’t wreak vengeance on the losers as happened in the United States in Reconstruction.” And I, as a complainer, I send him a note. And I said, “You’re not writing about Reconstruction really, but I think it’s important to know that that’s not how historians view it anymore. You’re reinforcing the idea that giving rights to black people is an act of vengeance against white people, which is a really dangerous idea.”

920x920Eric Foner: He wrote back and said, “You’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t have said that, but my wife is from South Carolina,” and I’ve heard this all the time. And I said to myself, “That’s a funny way of running journalism.” You put in your article what your wife told you over breakfast. But be that as it may, you don’t see that anymore. I think what now, if Reconstruction pops up is Tim Scott is the first black Senator from South Carolina and the first ones were in Reconstruction. I think Reconstruction is being seen as a time when positive things happened even though negative things happened as well. So I think it’s good. And of course the Gates series was very important as you well know, that there’s now a national park site being developed in Beaufort, South Carolina to highlight the history of Reconstruction. So I think Reconstruction is, people are encountering it in all sorts of venues and I think in a more modern form than the old what we call Dunning School approach.

Ed Ayers: Well you were modest before in walking away from the word failure, but in many ways you came up with the right word back in 1988 with your great book on Reconstruction; unfinished revolution. Are you willing to stand by that phrase still?

Eric Foner: Yeah, I am. That was the very last words of the Gates series, if you may remember. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw got the very last word in Reconstruction was an Unfinished Revolution. So I said, “Oh, look at that. That’s nice. My phrase still reverberating out there.” The funny thing is that that wasn’t the title of the book. The title of book was just Reconstruction, and the day before it finally went to the printer, my editor called me and said, “People here don’t think anyone’s going to buy that book. It needs a good subtitle. By tomorrow morning, give us a subtitle.” And I thought, “Gee whiz.” And I thought and thought and thought and suddenly this popped into my head, The Unfinished Revolution and I told it to him. So it wasn’t something that had shaped the way I wrote the book or anything like that.

Eric Foner: But anyway, yeah, it’s unfinished, and particularly, when you talk about the legal and constitutional aspects, yes. The Reconstruction put forward a whole set of ideals, a whole set of principles for our society and they weren’t fully accomplished, certainly. I want to give the impression of something that’s still ongoing, that Reconstruction is not just the dead past. It’s still happening in the sense that the issues of Reconstruction; who should be a citizen? Who should have the right to vote? How do we deal with terrorism and others? These are on our agenda today. So that debate is still unfinished.

Ed Ayers: Your new book, let’s talk about the title of it. The Second Founding. So why did United States need a second founding? What was it about the first founding that was inadequate?

Eric Foner: Well, as you well know, there’s a lot of debate among historians about exactly what the relationship between the constitution and slavery was. I don’t want to get into that right here. The abolitionist movement debated that forever, but I think we would all have to say that slavery in some form was embedded in the original constitution. We had the Fugitive Slave Clause, which required the return of those who managed to escape to freedom. We had the Three-Fifths Clause, which gave the slave South added representation in the House of Representatives by counting part of their slave population. So we needed a second founding to cleanse the constitution of slavery and to clarify issues which the constitution had left undecided.

Eric Foner: Number one, who is a citizen of the United States? One of the funny things is the constitution refers to citizens all over the place, but it never defines who is a citizen. What do you need to be to be a citizen? My view of Reconstruction, I use this phrase, a modern phrase, I didn’t use it back then, is this is regime change that’s going on. A pro-slavery regime is being replaced with what? With some kind of antislavery regime and you’ve got to rewrite the constitution in order to cleanse it of the remnants of the pro-slavery regime.

Ed Ayers: And that regime wasn’t just in the South. The whole nation was a regime based on slavery.

Eric Foner: Absolutely. That’s why Lincoln in his second inaugural address referred to it as American slavery, not Southern slavery. Lincoln always said that, that we are complicitous in the North. We don’t own slaves right now, but we are complicitous. We profit from slavery.

Ed Ayers: So as you know from out giving talks, people think that the Civil War itself ended slavery and that the 13th Amendment was just a codification of something that had already happened with the Emancipation Proclamation and so forth. So I thought that was one thing that was interesting about the Lincoln movie focusing on the 13th Amendment. So why did we need the 13th Amendment if the Civil War ended slavery?

GatewayEric Foner: Well there were still slaves on the ground when the Civil War ended, quite a few of them. People who had gotten to Union lines or where the Union Army had come and established control, yeah. Part of their job, part of the Union Army’s job once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, was to protect the freedom that Lincoln had announced. But legally speaking, emancipation and abolition are not quite the same thing. Slavery is created by state law, not federal law, state law. States can abolish slavery as the Northern states did soon after the American Revolution, but freeing individuals does not abrogate the state laws that create slavery. That’s why Lincoln’s, even though you wouldn’t quite see this in the movie. That’s fine. It’s not a historical treatise. Lincoln’s preferred route to the end of slavery during the war was state by state abolition.

Eric Foner: Even after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he was pressing Southern states. If any of them wanted to come back in the union, they would have to abolish slavery. That’s how you get rid of slavery on the ground, by having the state laws abrogated. But that couldn’t really happen in the Civil War very much, and so by 1864, many people particularly abolitionists are saying the simpler way is just to have this constitutional amendment. That will completely abrogate slavery everywhere in the country. We won’t have to go state by state and let’s do it that way. Lincoln got onboard of course, and as the movie shows, twisted a lot of arms in January, 1865 to get some people in the House of Representatives to vote for the 13th Amendment, so to completely get rid of slavery. It’s certainly true. The war disrupted slavery. Many people fled. Some states like Maryland, a border state and Louisiana where Lincoln was trying to push a Reconstruction plan, they abolished slavery on the state level, but there were plenty of places slavery was still existing when the Civil War ended.

Ed Ayers: Well, why would Lincoln have to twist so many arms if the United States awakened to the great injustice of slavery during the war and mobilized 200000 African American men to be soldiers and sailors? Why was there still resistance to it as late as 1864 and early 1865?

Eric Foner: Yeah, well, of course the first time they tried, the 13th Amendment failed in the House of Representatives. Remember, it needs two-thirds vote in the Congress, which is often not that easy to get. The Democratic Party was still there. It was still, if not pro-slavery, it was still resistant to abolition. The border slave states, the people there were quite adamant that they didn’t, Kentucky, Maryland said they didn’t want this constitutional amendment. They were still in the union, but it took arm twisting because the 13th Amendment gets lost in the shuffle in a way. We talk about the 14th and 15th much more for complicated reasons, but the 13th Amendment was really a constitutional revolution in and of itself.

Eric Foner: Never before had the constitution been written or amended to just abrogate a whole type of property. Some of the people in Congress said, “Wait a minute. If we’re going to say this kind of property is gone, next year there’ll be demanding that we confiscate the factories of New England.” It also completely reversed the position and that was traditional, but from the constitution arm, with the ratification of the constitution arm, that this was a state matter. Now it’s a, “Forget it. I don’t care what the states want. No slavery anymore in this country, do supersede.” That is a fundamental shift of power from the states to the federal government. And then the second clause. The first clause, abolition of slavery. The second clause, Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment. A lot of southerners, once the war is over and Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan is moving along, a lot of white Southerners say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Yeah, slavery is dead. We understand that. We’re not going to have slavery back, but this second clause seems to give Congress the right to legislate about anything they want.”

Eric Foner: How do you enforce the abolition of slavery? Do you give black people the right to vote? Yeah. People said that’s what they need if they’re going to be free. Do you give them land? That’s what African Americans wanted. In other words, it’s very open-ended. Enforcing the abolition of slavery is a very complicated idea. Unfortunately, for very complex legal reasons, it has never really been implemented. The Supreme court has barely ever used the 13th Amendment as a weapon against the racial inequality that is, of course, tied up in slavery.

Ed Ayers: Yeah, so the 13th Amendment, it’s a breakthrough in thinking about what the nation is as well as ending slavery right?

Eric Foner: Right.

Ed Ayers: Does that help explain why the 14th Amendment comes so quickly after the 13th after there have been decades, really, without constitutional change?

WhoEric Foner: Yeah. The 14th Amendment, I would say, is working out the consequences of the 13th Amendment as well as the consequences of the Civil War. I see the 14th Amendment as putting the Northern Republicans understanding of what they had achieved in the Civil War into the constitution. Some of it has something to do with race or slavery, for example, that Confederate bonds are never going to be repaid. If you patriotically loaned money to the Confederacy, forget it. You’re never getting that back. It has to do with various other things related to the war. But the first section, which is the key one, is really henceforth because of the abolition of slavery, everybody born in the United States is a citizen of the United States.

Eric Foner: You needed that because the status of citizenship was still very uncertain and then more important, all those citizens are going to enjoy the equal protection of the law. The original constitution said nothing about equality among Americans, nothing. It’s the 14th Amendment that makes the constitution as it has been in our own time, a vehicle through which all sorts of people can claim greater equality. The gay marriage decision a few years ago was a 14th Amendment decision. They weren’t thinking of gay marriage when they were writing the 14th Amendment, but they were thinking of how do you make people equal before the law?

Ed Ayers: The last amendment you talk about of course, is the 15th, which I think often tends to be seen as a footnote to the 14th but was that also a hard fought battle to create that?

Eric Foner: That was very hard fought because the principle that the states controlled the right to vote was deeply embedded North and South. There were plenty of Northern states that were nervous. In Congress, they were those who said, “We want an amendment that just says every male citizen age 21 has the right to vote.” If they had gotten that through, just think of all the trouble that would have been avoided. Even today when we’re debating voter IDs and all that, a positive statement. Now they weren’t willing to give women the right to vote and the women’s movement was very outraged by that. But Northern states, the Chinese couldn’t vote in California. Immigrants couldn’t vote on the same basis as a native born in Rhode Island. Massachusetts had a literacy test for voting. They didn’t want to give up their control of the rights. So instead of a positive amendment, it’s what you might call a negative amendment; that no state can deny anyone the right to vote because of race.

Ed Ayers: Well, it’s a work-around in a way, right? It’s-

Eric Foner: It’s a work-around and it has a serious flaw, which is any other limit on the right to vote is not prohibited right? You can have a literacy test. You can have a poll tax. When the Southern states, as you well know, took away the right to vote, they didn’t do it by saying, “Hey, black people can’t vote anymore,” because that would’ve violated the 15th Amendment. What they did was put all these other qualifications and then understanding clauses. You’ve got to prove to the registrar that you understand the state constitution, but the Supreme Court allowed this to happen. They said, “Well, look, they’re not talking about race actually. This law says nothing about race so it doesn’t violate the 15th Amendment.”

Ed Ayers: Well and there’s other parts of these amendments that have come back to haunt us in some ways. Perhaps you could talk a little bit about the clause about involuntary servitude and the 13th Amendment?

Eric Foner: That’s been highlighted a few years ago by the documentary of, the Hollywood documentary, 13th. 13th Amendment, the language is taken just about directly from the Northwest Ordinance of Thomas Jefferson, and it says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime, can exist in the United States.” That criminal exemption. Now this is not a conspiracy as some people think, “Oh look. They were looking ahead to mass incarceration, to convict labor, to the exploitation of the labor.” They were hardly any prisons in 1865. There was a little bit of a history of convict labor to help pay the cost of prisons, but it wasn’t a mass system. But this little, this exemption, which was not even debated in Congress, nobody even mentioned it except Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts. It wasn’t debated in the press. I looked through the newspapers. Nobody mentions it.

Eric Foner: It’s just boilerplate language really. But nonetheless, inadvertently, it created this loophole through which the Southern states particularly drove this Mack truck in the late 19th century of massive convict labor, either within prisons or leasing out of convicts to work in mines and plantations and on roadwork and stuff like this, under terribly oppressive conditions. The courts have persistently ruled that the 13th Amendment allows the requirement, the involuntary labor of people convicted of a crime. And then after Reconstruction, Southern states began making almost anything a felony. You steal a chicken, it’s a felony, and you’re eight years in jail and you are sent out pretty soon to labor on some guy’s plantation who has rented the labor of the prisoners from the federal government. So it’s disastrous really in Southern history later on, but it was inadvertent almost. What it shows you is people talk a lot about the original intention. Sometimes unintended consequences can be just as important as the intended consequences of an amendment.

Ed Ayers: You talked before, Eric, about the way that even though women played such a crucial role in bringing about these amendments; petitioning Congress during the war and afterwards, that they were excluded from this. How about the place of American Indians in all this? Who’s been born in this country more than American Indians? So why is that a blind spot in these laws of the post Civil War era?

Eric Foner: The legal status of Native Americans was murky, to say the least. You still had the remnants of the idea that they were not Americans. They were members of their own tribal sovereignties. People talked about the Cherokee Nation, the Choctaw Nation. You are not a citizen of the United States. You were a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Now, of course, by this time, the power of the Indian nations in most places had been broken, and it wasn’t as if you had the United States government dealing with equal nations on the other side. But the people who wrote the [inaudible 00:29:15] did not, their aim was not to make Native Americans citizens. The exemption in the 14th Amendment says, “Anybody born in the United States or naturalized coming from abroad except and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” And the idea, well Native Americans are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. They’re subject to the laws of their own national sovereignties.

ForeverEric Foner: So Indians were not citizens and it’s not until 1924 that Congress enacts a law making all Native Americans, regardless of where they are living, regardless of what tribe they in, citizens of the United States. So yeah. These amendments had exemptions, they had loopholes, they had serious flaws. Women, as you said, certainly objected to the 15th Amendment, which didn’t give them the right to vote, and the second clause of the 14th Amendment, which introduces the word male for the first time into the constitution. These measures were compromises. They were worked out after long debate and amendments and ups and downs in Congress. There’s no single mind behind the 13th, 14th or 15th Amendments. They were the result of all sorts of negotiation and controversy. Nonetheless, the basic principles are pretty clear. The abolition of slavery, the establishment of a universal notion of citizenship, despite without the native Americans and of equality among those citizens and the vast expansion of the right to vote.

Ed Ayers: And they are alive in today’s political and legal culture. What do you see as the issues that are most salient right now on either being contested or helping drive forward some kind of change?

Eric Foner: Well, sadly, yeah. Many of these issues are still unresolved and I’d have to say sadly, our Supreme Court has adopted an increasingly narrow definition of the implications of these amendments. The most notable was a few years ago in the Shelby County decision, which overturned a very important part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s a law passed under the 15th Amendment. It was passed with virtual unanimity in Congress, forcing jurisdictions in the South that had a long history of discrimination and voting to get prior approval from the federal government before they changed the voting rules. Supreme Court a few years ago said, “Well that’s a violation of federalism. It treats some states more harshly than other states.” Well, these are states that had slavery and not every state did. And also these are states that had consciously removed the right to vote over many years.

Eric Foner: But anyway, so their narrowing the 15th Amendment. Who should have the right to vote is a hot issue in our politics as you well know, with gerrymandering, with various ID and other voter suppression laws. Citizenship, how relevant can you be on our border today? This is being debated all the time. Who has the right to be an American citizen? For example, does the child born in the United States of a undocumented immigrant, is that child automatically an American citizen? Well, language of the 14th Amendment is pretty clear. Yes. Any person born in the United States. Your parents can be bank robbers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a citizen of the United States. But President Trump, among other things, has said that he feels he has the right as president to abrogate the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, the birthright citizenship sentence for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Eric Foner: I don’t personally think the president can all by himself eradicate part of the constitution, but some people have tried to do that. So these issues are certainly on our political agenda today and I think an understanding of how the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were enacted, what they were intended to accomplish, can help us think through the implications of that today.

Ed Ayers: Eric Foner is professor emeritus of history at Columbia University. His latest book is The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. That’s going to do it for us today, but you can keep the conversation going online. Let us know what you thought of the episode or ask us your questions about history. You’ll find this at backstoryradio.org or send an email to backstory@Virginia.edu. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter at Backstory Radio. Special thanks this week to Jerry [inaudible 00:34:10] and Katie Gary.

Ed Ayers: Backstory is produced at Virginia Humanities. Major support is provided by an anonymous donor, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial foundation, the Johns Hopkins University and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent those that the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by the Tomato Fund, cultivating fresh ideas in the arts, the humanities, and the environment.

Speaker 6: Brian Balogh is professor of history at the University of Virginia. Ed Ayers is professor of the humanities and president emeritus of the University of Richmond. Joanne Freeman is professor of history and American studies at Yale University. Nathan Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams associate professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. Backstory was created by Andrew Wyndham for Virginia Humanities.

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En este artículo del historiador Garret Felber  (The Univertsity of Mississippi), se analizan nuevas fuentes que podrían obligar a revaluar el legado del gran líder revolucionario afroamericano Malcom X.

Malcom 1

The Missing Malcolm X

Garret Felbert

Boston Review, November 28, 2018

More than fifty years after his death, Malcolm X remains a polarizing and misunderstood figure. Not unlike the leader he is too often contrasted with—Martin Luther King, Jr.—he has been a symbol to mobilize around, a foil to abjure, or a commodity to sell, rather than a thinker to engage. As political philosopher Brandon Terry reminded us in these pages on the fiftieth anniversary of King’s death this year, “There are costs to canonization.” The primary vehicle of canonization in Malcolm’s case has been The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which has been translated into thirty languages and has been widely read—by students and activists alike—across the United States and abroad.

The project first took shape in 1963, when Malcolm signed an agreement with journalist Alex Haley to co-author the book for Doubleday Press. (It was the first book for both writers.) The contract stipulated that Malcolm would have ultimate say over the final version: “Nothing can be in the manuscript, whether a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter, or more that you do not completely approve of.” But Malcolm would never see the final book, which was published instead by Grove Press after his assassination in 1965. Fearing it would be too controversial, Doubleday withdrew its contract after Malcolm’s death in what biographer Manning Marable called the “most disastrous decision in corporate publishing history.” The book sold six million copies by 1977 and would later serve as the basis of Spike Lee’s influential 1992 biopic. It has shaped generations of activists and helped to define our collective understanding of race in the United States. The book is viewed as a crystallization of Malcolm X’s political vision, yet that vision is all too often overshadowed by—or conflated with—the man himself, portrayed in the book as a charismatic leader defined by dramatic personal transformation and tragedy.

That understanding—both of the person and of the politics—now stands to be reexamined. This summer previously unpublished materials that had been seized from a private collector, who acquired them at the sale of Haley’s estate in 1992, were auctioned to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. The items acquired include various notes from Malcolm, a draft 241-page manuscript of the autobiography with handwritten corrections and notes from both Malcolm and Haley, and—perhaps most importantly—a previously unpublished 25-page typewritten chapter titled “The Negro.” (This week, the Schomburg Center made these items available to the public by appointment.) There have long been rumors of three missing chapters among scholars; some think Haley cut them from the book following Malcolm’s assassination because their politics diverged or the book had transformed during his tumultuous last year. Whatever the reasoning, “The Negro” is a fragment of the book Malcolm intended to publish—a book that would be virtually unrecognizable to readers of his autobiography today. We will never fully know that book, of course, but “The Negro” chapter forces us, finally, to engage with it.

The published book charts a series of personal transformations: from his birth in Omaha, Nebraska, as Malcolm Little to his nickname “Detroit Red” (he had reddish hair) in Harlem, then “Satan” while he served time in prison, to Malcolm X when he embraced the Nation of Islam, and finally, after making the pilgrimage in 1964, to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Spanning five hundred pages and nineteen chapters, including an expansive epilogue by Haley, it is a story of dramatic metamorphosis. Malcolm Little, born one of seven children in 1925 to disciples of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey, was imbued with black self-reliance during his childhood in Lansing, Michigan. His father, Earl, was killed under suspicious circumstances—many suspect the Black Legion, a white hate group—when Malcolm was six years old. When his mother, Louise, was admitted to a mental institute in 1938, Malcolm first went to foster care and then to his half-sister’s home in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. Traveling back and forth between Roxbury and Harlem, the young Malcolm met musicians and entertainers and became involved in a life of petty crime before being arrested and sentenced to 8–10 years for a string of home robberies. In prison, the published autobiography relates, Malcolm undergoes a religious and political awakening that culminates with his conversion to Islam; he became the chief minister of Harlem’s Temple No. 7 in 1954. Seven years later, he was named the Nation of Islam’s national representative and had become its public face. The book concludes at a dizzying pace as Malcolm experienced the turmoil of his ouster from the Nation of Islam, his founding of two independent organizations (Muslim Mosque Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity), his travels abroad in 1964, and eventually his assassination in early 1965.

muhammed-ali-malcolm-x-book-review
Muhamad Ali y Malcom X

Haley originally intended this narrative arc—comprising the full scope of the published autobiography—to fill only three brief chapters that would merely serve to introduce the book’s main author. According to the original chapter outline, after the biographical details, Malcolm would tell the story of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad’s life in a lone transitional chapter before writing the bulk of the book: eleven speech-like essays on a range of topics, including “The Liberal,” “The Brutal Police,” “The Farce on Washington,” “The Potential Twenty Million Muslims in America,” “Questions I Get Asked” and the Nation of Islam’s ten-point program “What We Muslims Want. . . What We Believe.” While these themes appeared in many of Malcolm’s speeches and were interspersed throughout the final book, the chapters as originally titled were never realized.

Instead, Haley delivered “The Negro” to Doubleday in October 1963. A month and a half later, after Malcolm called President John F. Kennedy’s assassination a case of the “chickens coming home to roost,” Elijah Muhammad publicly chastised Malcolm and forbade him from public speaking for three months, which proved to be the most productive period of the autobiography’s writing. Haley would type as Malcolm spoke aloud, gathering napkins he had surreptitiously placed for Malcolm to scribble his thoughts. Around this time, Haley wrote his editor and agent that Malcolm was “tense as the length of his inactivity grows—and it eases him when I come and talk the book with him.”

Malcolm began to reflect more openly about his past, likely ballooning the personal narrative at the expense of the essays, and Haley began to describe the “first half of the book” as “the man’s life story.” With his restlessness producing more material, “The Negro” was now intended to be one of three, rather than eleven, essays for the remainder of the book. The others would be “The End of Christianity” and “Twenty Million Black Muslims”—the three essays serving to summarize Malcolm’s religious and political point of view.

With the book, Malcolm had hoped to subvert the generic conventions of autobiography that elevate the singular, private person over the collective, political public. Personal storytelling could be a means for collective liberation. Indeed, the weight given to Malcolm’s political vision in the book at times led to tensions with Haley. Just months after Haley and Malcolm signed the contract with Doubleday, Haley requested that his role be changed from “co-authored by” to “as told to.” “Co-authoring with Malcolm X,” he wrote, “would, to me, imply sharing his views—when mine are almost a complete antithesis of his.” He remembered Malcolm scolding him: “A writer is what I want, not an interpreter.”

Malcolm wanted his autobiography to be the story of a people and the social forces that shaped their lives, but in the end it became the story of an exceptional man’s life. Marable’s own Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Malcolm, twenty years in the making, grew out of his frustrations that the autobiography did not accurately represent Malcolm X’s political thought. Both during his life and after his death, Malcolm has often been reduced to a bare vessel of emotion, caricatured as an incisive critic who lacked a solution to the structural racism he so eloquently denounced. The autobiography itself was first marketed this way, as the story of “America’s angriest black man.” James Farmer, one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, once quipped at Malcolm during a debate: “We know the disease, physician, what is your cure?” Marable had speculated that the unpublished chapters would reveal a more holistic political vision, and “The Negro” partly fulfills that hope. Indeed, in its twenty-five pages, Malcolm X both outlines sicknesses and, quite explicitly, offers potential cures.

Haley excitedly wrote that “The Negro” was “guaranteed to upset the NAACP and [White] Citizens Councils, alike.” But the chapter, crucially, is more than just provocation. Today the essay’s title may sound like the product of a bygone era, but to Malcolm the term was always outdated, an ideological fiction of white supremacy. The “Negro,” he wrote, was a “white creation”:

Part of the ‘Negro’s’ survival technique until this day has been to let the white man hear what he knew he wanted to hear from his creation, and to show him the image he wanted to see. And the white man has gullibly believed the Negro survival ruse. It has helped him not have to face the enormity of his crime.

A classic lecture Malcolm gave as minister of Harlem’s Mosque No. 7 traced the root of “Negro” back to the Greek word for death, “nekro.” This folk etymology pointed not only to the Nation of Islam’s conviction that 85 percent of black people were “dead” in the sense that they were “deaf, dumb, and blind” to their own history, but also to its contention that the necessary and proximate death of the “Negro” race would lead to the rise of the Earth’s “original people.”

There is rage in “The Negro,” but it is accompanied by reason. It argues for politics over personality. The chapter is a kaleidoscopic tour through Malcolm’s searing critiques of black political leadership, integration, liberal incrementalism, and white philanthropy. The tone throughout is characteristically pointed, speech-like, and conversational:

One of the white man’s favorite tricks, through his ‘liberals’ and through his puppet ‘Negro leader’ mouthpieces, is to keep flooding the black masses and the rest of the world with propaganda that the black man here is getting better off in America in every way, every day. But the true nature and the true intent of the former slavemaster is glaring every way and every day in the headlines:

You Can’t Enter Here

You Can’t Ride Here

You Can’t Work Here

You Can’t Play Here

You Can’t Study Here

You Can’t Eat Here

You Can’t Drink Here

You Can’t Walk Here

You Can’t Live Here

At the center of Malcolm’s analysis in “The Negro” is the farce of liberal incrementalism. As an identity, “Negro” elevated a few black leaders to speak on behalf of all black people, propping up liberal narratives of incremental racial progress through tokenism and the facade of inclusion. Malcolm argued that racial integration was predicated on a discourse of inferiority: “sittin-in and kneeling-in at the bottom of the ladder, looking up and hollering ‘I’m just as good as you.’” He saw white philanthropy and civil rights leadership as a “black body with white heads.” And for those who said the Nation of Islam preached hate, he reminded that the “white man is in no moral position to ever accuse any black man of hate.”

Buried in the last three pages of the chapter are its greatest revelation. “‘First things come first,’ we are taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Malcolm writes. That first step, however, will come as a surprise to many: political bloc strength. Malcolm and the Nation of Islam are often characterized as having been antagonistic to procedural politics—voting, legislation, and the like. But here Malcolm suggested that the black voting bloc could “overnight, take hold of the black man’s destiny in America.” He goes on to credit Muhammad as “advising the black masses to activate America’s greatest untapped source of political bloc strength.” Indeed, a year earlier Muhammad had declared that the future of black Americans “lies in electing our own.” The Muhammad Speaksnewspaper claimed that the Nation of Islam might soon endorse candidates and participate in a nationwide voter registration drive in preparation for the 1964 election.

It was a sign of political maturity, he believed, to first register black people, then organize them, and to vote only when a candidate represented their interests.

Malcom X y Martin Luther King

“The Negro” thus complicates narratives of rupture which position Malcolm’s foray into electoral politics as his first major shift after leaving the NOI. Even as Malcolm composed the chapter in 1963, a shift toward black bloc voting, voter registration drives, and black political parties was already underway. The all-black Freedom Now Party had been established in August 1963 during the March on Washington. The next year the activist Fannie Lou Hamer delivered her historic speech on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which sought seats at the Democratic National Convention. Soon after Kennedy’s assassination, Barry Goldwater announced his candidacy as the Republican challenger in the 1964 election, and throughout the election Malcolm would return to one of his favorite folk metaphors: the fox and the wolf. Like Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson was a liberal fox who would eat you with a grin. Goldwater, by contrast, was a vocal opponent of the Civil Rights Act, the wolf who would eat you with a scowl. But both the fox and the wolf, Malcolm was fond of pointing out, belong to the same family. In “The Negro,” he called Democrats and Republicans “labels that mean nothing” to black people. Elsewhere he noted how in the United Nations, there are those who vote yes, those who vote no, and those who abstain. And those who abstain often “have just as much weight.” A sign of political maturity, he believed, was to first register black people, then organize them, and vote only when a candidate represented their interests.

This analysis culminated in one of Malcolm’s most famous addresses, “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Delivered in April 1964 shortly after breaking with the Nation of Islam and forming his independent organization Muslim Mosque, Inc., Malcolm told a Cleveland audience, “A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.” Many historians have seen the speech as Malcolm’s first ideological break from the Nation of Islam, an index of his developing political thought. “The Negro,” by contrast, shows this thought as an extension of the Nation of Islam’s political development rather than a departure. Even the title of his speech may have been borrowed from the pages of Muhammad Speaks; in 1962, a front-page story about the struggle in Fayette County, Tennessee, to register black voters was subtitled: “Fayette Fought For Freedom With Bullets and Ballots.”

Similarly, the outline of black bloc voting in “The Negro” was a precursor to Malcolm’s later, more expansive goal of bringing the United States before the United Nations. In 1964, he connected a domestic black voting bloc to a global “African-Asian-Arab” one. “Today,” he urged, “power is international.” Electoral engagement was a tool, but hardly a panacea, for collective liberation.

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What significance does this revised understanding of Malcolm X and his autobiography have for social movements now?

By reanimating the autobiography’s original aim to tell the story of a people, not just a single person, the newly uncovered materials let the air out of the persistent myth that we should look—and, by implication, wait—for this generation’s King or Malcolm. This was always a convenient fiction, relying on the marginalization of women and grassroots activists. “The movement made Martin,” as Ella Baker pointed out, “rather than Martin making the movement.”

The new materials emphasize how quickly autobiography shades into hagiography when we erase the collective political context.

Indeed, today’s activists are mostly decentralized, group-centered, and hyper-local. They eschew—in many cases, outright discourage—cults of personality and dependence on a singular spokesperson. They have insisted that they are not leaderless, they are leader-full. Historian Barbara Ransby writes in her new book, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century, that “this is the first time in the history of U.S. social movements that Black feminist politics have defined the frame for a multi-issue, Black-led mass struggle that did not primarily or exclusively focus on women.” Today’s activists are as likely to draw on Baker, Assata Shakur, Audre Lorde, and the Combahee River Collective as on Malcolm X.

Some students and activists still bemoan the absence of charismatic leaders, but the new materials emphasize how quickly autobiography shades into hagiography when we erase the collective political context. Malcolm X has come to look exceptional and distinct, disconnected from the political tradition handed down by his parents: his mother Louise wrote for the Universal Negro Improvement Association newspaper Negro World, and his father Earl was a Garveyite preacher. Properly contextualized, these new materials reconnect Malcolm to the intergenerational black nationalist tradition that he hoped his personal story might embody.

malcolmxme1

The rediscovered material reminds us that Malcolm sought a politics that was collective, and not solely reliant on his—or anyone’s—leadership. Just two months before his assassination, he introduced Hamer to a Harlem audience and pledged they would soon launch a massive voter registration drive to register black people as independents. “Policies change, and programs change, according to time,” he told a crowd that same day. “You might change your method of achieving the objective, but the objective never changes. Our objective is complete freedom, complete justice, complete equality, by any means necessary.”

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La Universidad de Columbia acaba de dar acceso gratuito a los cursos “online” (MOOC) del historiador norteamericano Eric Foner. Autor de obras imprescindibles como Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877  (1988) y The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011), Foner es uno de los grandes analistas de la guerra civil norteamericana y del periodo de la Reconstrucción.

Columbia University Releases Eric Foner’s Civil War MOOCs. It’s Free! 

HNN  September 17, 2014

Free history courses to reach educators and students worldwide, expanding Columbia’s online teaching initiatives

NEW YORK, New York, September 11, 2014 — Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) today announced the release of three new online courses on edX: The Civil War and Reconstruction. Eric Foner, Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Columbia University’s DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, teaches this three-part massive open online course (MOOC). On Wednesday, September 17, the first course launches – the series is free and accessible to anyone anywhere with an Internet connection, including K-12 educators and students.

The new history series, the first humanities course offering by Columbia on edX, is an open learning experience spread out over weeks of stimulating lectures, interactive assignments, and community discussions. The entire series is 27 weeks long and challenges students to examine the politics of history and investigate themes that are still very present in our national dialogue – the balance of power between local and national authority, the boundaries of citizenship, and the meaning of freedom and equality.

“We are delighted that Eric Foner is kicking off Columbia’s involvement with the edX platform,” said Columbia University Provost John H. Coatsworth. “His course series on the Civil War will highlight one of our finest teachers while providing students around the world with a window on to the outstanding humanities instruction for which Columbia is known.”

The three online courses are:

1. A House Divided: The Road to Civil War, 1850-1861 – 10 weeks, beginning September 17

2. A New Birth of Freedom: The Civil War, 1861-1865 – 8 weeks, beginning December 1

3. The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 – 9 weeks, beginning February 25

The series trailer is online here:

“Recent events have underscored the fact that our society is still grappling with the long-term legacies of slavery and the failure of Reconstruction, so this history is especially pertinent today” said Professor Foner.

“If you want to know where the world you’re living in came from,” Foner tells us in the trailer, “you need to know about the Civil War era.”

“The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning is thrilled to see Eric Foner‘s work published this way,” said CCNMTL director Maurice Matiz. “Besides having a great interest in getting those connected to Columbia during Foner’s long career —our alumni— access to the course, we are also hoping that the course will have broad appeal given the public interest in this key period of our history.”

“We are honored to work with Eric Foner on his first MOOC, “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” and to help history-lovers everywhere connect with this prominent historian to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of our shared past and society today,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

This MOOC series is also registered as an XSeries on edX, giving learners the opportunity to sign up and receive a verified certificate of achievement that authenticates their successful completion of each course.

Visit ColumbiaX here.

In addition, the lecture videos from the entire course will be published on CCNMTL’s YouTube channel.

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