Monday, December 07, 2015

This Ongoing War 150 Years Later

In North Carolina, it’s no surprise to learn that “since 1960, one third of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion.”  Nor, according to scientists, that “46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year – equivalent to 36 football fields every minute.”

Tar Heels have witnessed the link between depleted soils and deforestation in the decades before the Civil War when more than a third of North Carolinians moved away.

By 1850, 31% of native North Carolinians then living in the United States resided in some other state.

Backwardness regarding slavery and race relations as well as resistance to public education and infrastructure played a big role in the out migration as did poor land use practices by plantations.

It’s well documented by unapologetic historians such as the late Dr. William S. Powell.

I’ve been reading or rereading two others recently, one written the year I was born (1948) entitled From Slavery to Freedom and another just released entitled, The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas.

Both shed new light.

The latter shows the population breakdown by race and freedom-status broken down by county just prior to the Civil War, as well as the vote by county for or against succession.

You can see a divide back then running down between what is now Durham and Wake/Raleigh with 5 points more slave-holders in Wake.

Wake/Raleigh also had twice the number of slaves as Durham/Orange and nearly three times the number of free Blacks out of 30,463 statewide.

There were a little more than 125,000 households in North Carolina in 1860 and 28.2% owned slaves.

Yet in 1861, Durham/Orange voted by more than 3 to 1 against succession from the Union while Wake/Raleigh voted for it by a few hundred votes.

As the rhetoric heated, the state as a whole was almost evenly split on the issue with a slight nod against.  People’s minds back then were more focused on the wealthy paying more in taxes here.

Within weeks though, secessionists won out both because of a general sentiment of “you can’t tell us what to do” and being surrounded by states that had or were succeeding.

The North won the Civil War that resulted, which effectively ended with a surrender in Durham.  Thanks to resistance by Southern Generals Lee and Johnston there wasn’t the subsequent guerilla war Southern leaders wanted.

But that didn’t mean war was over.

Another war erupted almost immediately between Democrats who were controlled by white supremacists and Republicans.

Just as a small percentage of the population had monopolized power in North Carolina and kept it backward, then pushed it into a war to defend slavery as a way of life for a few, a similarly small percentage held power in this follow up war.

Political rhetoric is powerful as we still see today.  It can close minds more easily than open them, something given comprehensive coverage a few days ago in an On the Media radio show entitled Lies, Lies, Lies.  

Republicans lost this follow up war and soon became all but extinct across the South because the party had became divided into an increasingly conflict-weary faction seeking social justice leading to a takeover by its Wall Street wing.

Just as Democrats had become divided into factions over slavery leading up to the Civil War, resulting in President Lincoln’s election, factionalized Republicans lost the follow up-struggle.

Following the South’s defeat and preservation of the Union in the Civil War, reunited Democrats fell sway to the rhetoric of a small fraction of white supremacists who this time sought not only to reinstate limitations on civil liberties, but to virtually annihilate the Republican Party in the South, which they did.

As a result, civil rights in the reunified country were put on hold for another hundred years and even today, seem lodged between ongoing institutionalized bias on one hand and a futile obsession with effacing racist symbols on the other.

The two political parties have switched roles today.

It began gradually in the decades leading up to the 1930s on issues of social and environmental justice, then became increasingly apparent after WWII and symbolized by the 1960s.

As someone who was raised a staunch Republican which I remained until nearly 25, I have been particularly interested in the history of the Republican and Democratic parties.

My Republican roots go back to the party’s founding.  But many of those ancestors would no longer be welcome there.  People who sense I lean Progressive probably don’t realize that it is the Republican Party that has shifted.

Understanding how the parties have evolved helps me understand how I briefly moved to the left in my mid-20s before finding my comfort zone as an Independent except wherever forced to briefly sign up so I could vote in primaries.

Today it is Republican ideology that seems to view everything as a threat to way of life, dominated by a few who seem to want to annihilate not only Democrats but anyone who dares to be moderate.

We see it in the refusal to negotiate or reach bipartisan agreement, even when Democrats sign on to Republican-generated innovations such as carbon credits or healthcare overhaul using exchanges that emulate the requirement for car insurance.

Further evidence is research showing that the root of Republican opposition to addressing climate change is the knee-jerk stereotyping of anyone concerned about the environment as a “watermelon,” green on the outside, red (as in Commie for you Millennials) on the outside.

The one thing that remains constant is that just as a tiny minority held North Carolina back after the U.S. was founded and the Civil War was fought to preserve the way of life lived by only 28% of Tar Heels, policies here are still driven by a small percentage in power.

The only thing certain is that the pendulum will swing yet again, but not the problem.

The parties may reverse roles yet again one day and apologists, as always, will try to smooth everything over like propagandists did between 1866 and 1966 by transforming the issue of slavery into “states’ rights.”

Democracy truly exists only when a majority of people vote, not just when the vote is a majority of those showing up.   Maybe similar to governing boards, popular elections should be valid only when there is a quorum?

As a moderate Independent who more and more has a little “time on him” as they say in my native Idaho, I am more and more aware of the dangers of failing to admit to myths when in pursuit of greatness as a nation or perpetuating a way of life.

I know far too many reasonable Republicans and far too many crazy Democrats to believe the rhetoric when one or the other party gives in to zero sum thinking.

But as President George Washington lamented in 1795, the problem may be in the nature of political parties, meant as a means to help people make decisions but then used as a reason not to think:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Lament indeed!

1 comment:

Frank Hyman said...

Hey Reyn, nice work, making a lot of good points. Along a similar line, you might like my op-ed--The Confederacy was a Con Job on Whites and Still Is: