Saturday, June 30, 2007

Secession Now!

In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate—a place it had not occupied since 1861. With their praise of self-rule and the devolution of power, they sounded not unlike many conservatives had in the days before Bush & Cheney & Limbaugh wedded the American Right to the American Empire. While certain proponents of the renascent secessionism were motivated by spite or pixilated by whimsy or driven by the simple-minded belief that the United States can be divided into blue and red—as though our lovely land can be painted in only two hues!—others argued with cogency and passion for a disunionist position that bordered on the, well, seditious. Emphasizing both culture ("Now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation,” said Democratic operative Bob Beckel) and economics (Democratic pundit Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “ninety percent of the red states are welfare clients of the federal government"), writing in forums of neoliberalism (Slate) and paleoliberalism (The Nation), liberals helped to disinter a body of thought that had been buried at Appomattox. And—surprise!—three years later, the corpse has legs.

Secession is the next radical idea poised to enter mainstream discourse—or at least the realm of the conceivable. You can’t bloat a modest republic into a crapulent empire without sparking one hell of a centrifugal reaction. And the prospect of breaking away from a union once consecrated to liberty and justice but now degenerating into imperial putrefaction will only grow in appeal as we go marching with our Patriot Acts and National Security Strategies through Iraq, Iran, and all the frightful signposts on our road to nowhere.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Was Lee a Traitor?

In declaring independence and establishing their own country, Southerners exercised their right to self-determination—and spent the next four years struggling to defend themselves against Lincoln's tyranny and terrorism. Yet more than a few "star-spangled patriots" have begun to repeat the old slur that Confederates, in so doing, were nothing but "traitors."
Writing in 1869, one year before his death, Robert E. Lee responded to this very charge:

"Every brave people who considered their rights attacked & their Constitutional liberties invaded, would have done as we did. Our conduct was not caused by any insurrectionary spirit nor can it be termed rebellion, for our construction of the Constitution under which we lived & acted was the same from its adoption, & for 80 years we had been taught & educated by the founders of the Republic & their written declarations which controlled our consciences & actions. The epithets that have been heaped upon us of "rebels" & "traitors" have no just meaning, nor are they believed in by those who understand the subject, even by the North."

Confederate Southerners sought to perpetuate, at least in their own country, the constitutional republic handed down to them by America's Founding Fathers. As Patrick Henry said under similar circumstances, "If this be treason, make the most of it!"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Confederates View Independence Day

Confederates were quick to note parallels between 1776 and 1861. Secession, said Jefferson Davis, “illustrates the American idea that government rests on the consent of the governed.” The Charleston Daily Courier pointed out that, “We are fighting as our fathers fought, not for a form of government or for territory, but for the cardinal and essential elements of self-government and independence.” Former unionist Benjamin F. Perry rebuked the Lincoln regime for “trying to reverse the principles announced in the American Declaration of Independence.”

Henry Timrod’s poetry earned him the sobriquet “Laureate of the Confederacy,” but he also proved himself a gifted writer of prose as assistant editor of the Columbia Daily South Carolinian. In a July 1864 editorial, Timrod regretted that Independence Day was no longer observed in the South.

“When the time and our means permit, we shall be glad to see renewed, with every return of the occasion, the bonfires and rejoicings with which it used to be celebrated, and we shall read, with hardly less pleasure than in the season of our boyhood, the familiar but ever fresh truths appropriate to the day written by the art of the pyrotechnist in letters of emerald and crimson against the dusk evening sky …. Yet while we advocate the celebrate of the Fourth by ourselves, we don’t know what right the Yankees have to regard it with like respect …. It is one of the most remarkable proofs of their effrontery as a nation, that they will dare to take the name of that day in vain. The impudence of the thing almost surpasses belief, but it is a piece with the bold hypocrisy of a people who represent themselves as the philanthropists of the world, while they are engaged in a crusade of extermination against another.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

America's Tenth President

Too many historians measure the “greatness” of American presidents by how far they expanded their power, or if they led the country into war. One who did neither was the Virginian, John Tyler.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” was the victorious Whig party’s campaign slogan in 1840, but William Henry Harrison died soon after his inauguration and Tyler became first to succeed to the presidency. A lifelong champion of liberty secured by states’ rights, Tyler had broken with Democrats over Andrew Jackson’s threatened invasion of South Carolina, after that state nullified the “Tariff of Abominations.” Once in office, Tyler so infuriated Whigs by his opposition to the national bank that they expelled him from their party. Still, President Tyler peacefully settled a border dispute with Canada, and he and Secretary of State John C. Calhoun prepared the way for admission of the Republic of Texas.

In retirement, Tyler strove to be a peacemaker as the sectional dispute deepened. He served as chairman of the Washington Peace Conference in February 1861—one last, forlorn effort at compromise. When he led a delegation from that body in a courtesy call on President-elect Abraham Lincoln, Tyler came away appalled. Lincoln seemed determined on war, and Tyler returned home an advocate of secession.

Tyler represented Virginia in the Provisional Confederate Congress, and went on to win a seat in the Confederate House of Representatives set to convene in February 1862. Two of the former president’s sons, and five of his grandsons, joined the Southern army. His teenaged granddaughter, Letitia Christian Tyler, had the honor of raising the first Confederate flag.

On January 18, before he could take his seat in Congress, the seventy-one year old Tyler died in Richmond. The city went into mourning as thousands came to the capitol to pay their respects. Tyler’s casket was draped with the flag of his country—the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

John Tyler remains the only former United States president whose passing was ignored by the government of that country.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

US in thrall to southern drawl

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 2:21am BST 11/06/2007

To British ears, an American southern accent carries connotations of cowboys and country singers, but in the US it signals something quite different: political success.

US president Ronald Reagan; an American southern accent signals political success in the US
Ronald Reagan was not southern but possessed home-baked charm

Four of the last five US presidents have been southerners, and the only exception, Ronald Reagan, possessed the demonstrably southern virtues of straight talking and home-baked charm.

But in the early stages of the competition to succeed George W Bush neither the Republican nor Democrat parties boast a bona fide southerner among their candidates.

However, that is likely to change this week as Fred Thompson, sometime lawyer, lobbyist, star of Law and Order and senator, is expected to announce his bid for the Republican nomination.

Thompson has a lot going for him. Like Reagan, he is an actor. Unlike his rivals he is a reliable social conservative on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control.

But the former senator from Tennessee is also the proud owner of an impressive southern brogue.

"No accent telegraphs more information faster than a southern one," wrote Elizabeth Wilner in The Politco newspaper. "It exudes approachability, an absence of pretence and a penchant for plain talk."

Thompson's mellifluous, authoritative tones are music to the ears of Republicans. "He sounds like a man in command," said Whit Ayres, a Republican psephologist. "He communicates very effectively to ordinary people and has definitely got the potential to win."

Things were all very different in the 1960s when southerners were unelectable, and more uptight, flat-voiced north-easterners and Washingtonians dominated.

The attraction of a southern candidate reflects the growing importance of the region. Its population is expanding thanks partly to migration from the north and mid-west by people in search of warmer weather and less crime.