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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

History...or bias?

Yes, I am going to keep harping on Thomas Woods' The Guide to Politically Incorrect History. It's important to expose this book for the cheap, shallow piece of work it is. Today, I am going to tackle his characterization of the 14th Amendment as being ratified unconstitutionally. As he says in an essay he wrote:

In 1865 Congress had accepted the Southern states’ ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery. But in 1867, even though nothing about those Southern state governments had changed in the interim, they were suddenly declared illegal when they initially dared to reject the Fourteenth Amendment. Simple consistency would require Congress to accept both decisions by the Southern states (that is, the decision to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment and the decision to reject the Fourteenth) or to reject both decisions. But consistency was not a conspicuous virtue of Reconstruction. Only later, under the heel of military occupation, did the Southern states vote to ratify.

Okay, so now you know where Woods is coming from. And it's a very simplified view of the most chaotic period in American history. So let's dig deeper and go back to the 13th Amendment and early Reconstruction.


Towards the end of the Civil War, plans started to form around how to re-admit the Southern states to the Union. President Lincoln took a moderate route as early as December of 1863. He granted a pardon to most southerners who took an oath swearing never to take arms again against the United States. He also said that once 10% of the state’s total vote in the presidential election of 1860 took the oath and organized a government and abolished slavery (13th Amendment), he would grant that government executive recognition. The Congress passed the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865. The 27th state to ratify the amendment was Georgia, on December 6, 1865. This made it into law.


Now, this is the simplified version. The actual history is much more involved. And it revolved around executive versus congressional recognition. Congress felt that they, and not the Executive, had the authority to re-admit the rebel states. So, in 1864, they passed the Wade-Davis bill, which required 50% of the male population to swear they had never supported the rebellion. Lincoln felt it was too harsh, and pocket vetoed it when Congress went to recess.


So, by war's end, the President and Congress were butting heads. Lincoln had granted executive recognition to Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia. But Congress would not seat their representatives. So, in essence, one branch of the government felt they were part of the Union, and another did not.


After Lincoln's assassination, President Johnson took over. A poor man from Tennessee, he started by attacking the slaveocracy, disenfranchising military officers and landowners whose assets exceeded $20,000. But he also wanted to ensure the primacy of the Executive Branch.


Between April and December of 1865, Congress was in recess. During this time President Johnson unilaterally appointed provisional governors who oversaw Constitutional Conventions in the southern states. At these conventions, the states ratified the 13th Amendment (minus Mississippi), repudiated their secession and voided Confederate debt. And by the end of 1865, every southern state but Texas had a civilian government. Remember, all this had happened while Congress was not in session.


Then two things happened.



So, as 1866 rolled around, Congress set out to change things. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction said that the Southern states had held invalid elections, and that Congress, not the Executive, held control of Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans cleaned up in the by-elections and then crafted the 14th Amendment.


The 14th Amendment was, overall, a very reasonable amendment. It guaranteed citizenship and equal protection under the laws. It made allowances for decreasing a state's representation if they did not allow blacks to vote. It banned any ex-Confederate official or officer from holding a seat in the Federal Government, but did allow for an override with a 2/3 vote of Congress. And finally, it invalidated the Confederate debt.


Congress passed it easily in 1866 and then put it to the states, including the southern states. And this is where Woods comes in.


He says that seeing as the Southern states ratified the 13th Amendment, and the same governments turned down the 14th, that either Congress had to accept both votes or turn down both votes. And that in not doing so, the 14th Amendment is invalid.


But is that the case? Remember, Congress had still not formally recognized the Southern states as being reconstructed. You can make the argument that it's bizarre that Congress gave them the chance to vote on the Amendment. But, seeing as nothing in the Constitution covered what to do in case of Civil War...they muddled through. And so Congress used the 14th Amendment as the litmus test to see if the Southern states deserved re-admittance (and in doing so sought to re-establish Congress over the Executive) So when they all voted down the 14th Amendment (excepting Tennessee), the Congress saw this as proof of their continued resistance. Also, and this is key, the 14th Amendment was not ratified at this time. It still wasn't law. And the Congress still didn't recognize the legitimacy of the Southern civil authority.


Then, in the summer of 1866, two massive race riots broke out in Memphis and New Orleans. Hundreds of blacks were massacred. And the Congress decided to act.


In 1867, they passed the First Reconstruction Act. It dissolved the civilian governments in the Southern states and formed five military districts. States could be reformed and readmitted provided the new state constitution allowed blacks to vote. Georgia was one of the first states to do so, and was set for readmittance. But then they expelled all the elected blacks from their state legislature. The military government was reinstated and now admittance became contingent on ratification of the 14th Amendment. Left with no choice, the Southern states ratified the 14th Amendment and were admitted back into the United States. Only now was the 14th Amendment part of the Constitution.


So, is Woods right? Not even close. His central argument, that the Southern civil authority had been recognized and therefore both votes had to be honored or shot down, is flawed by the glaring fact that Congress had never recognized Lincoln's plan, let alone Johnson's. They felt they had the controlling authority in that instance. And, seeing as all laws originate out of Congress, it's a valid stance. Even the Constitution supports this stance:


Art. IV. sect. 3. The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States...

Congress saw the Southern states as "territory", as having forfeited their status as States. This stance therefore gave Constitutional support to their belief that they called the shots.


Congress rightly withheld ratification of the 14th Amendment after the Southern states rejected it. They easily could have said it passed based on the support from the other states, since the Southern states held no legal recognition in their eyes. But that would have generated too much controversy, moreso than what had already been generated.


And why would Congress get rid of the 13th Amendment? That was the result they wanted. Even if they didn't recognize the Southern states as reconstructed, there's no way they'd toss the 13th Amendment. That not a flaw in logic, but cold political calculus.


And making ratification a requirement of readmittance was not a flaw. Saying that it was illegal to have a state ratify the 14th Amendment before being readmitted is like saying it was illegal to make Rhode Island ratify the Constitution before it officially joined the United States as a state. Congress had passed the 14th Amendment, and making ratification mandatory was not a flaw. Heavy-handed, yes. But not a flaw.


I guess what is so maddening about Woods is that his whole book rails on about the "tyranny" of the federal government. As I said before, he is a committed neo-secessionist and believes in the primacy of state liberty, fashioning himself as some sort of libertarian.


Yet, he has no problem with tyranny at the state level. The Black Codes? They weren't so bad. Ensuring the rights of blacks to vote? An egregious violation of liberty! The First Amendment? Doesn't apply to the states! Each state can have a primary religion, and woe to those who don't follow it.


What kind of libertarian rails at national limits on freedom but embraces them at the state level? What kind of libertarian defends a society that was propelled and supported by chattel slavery?? The kind that really isn't a libertarian. Instead, he's a member of the League of the South, a "neander-con" who sees anything the federal government does as wrong (unless it supports his views, which is for another post). But worse, he is a professor that writes a "book" with extremely shoddy sourcing. For this entire section, he used only 10 secondary sources and no primary sources. For 1861-1876, only 10 sources. That's pathetic. Worse, he holds a doctorate in history from Columbia, which says more about grade inflation than his writing skills.


Had he limited himself to talking about Congress exceeding their powers in this period, Prof. Woods would have been on more solid ground. Talking about the Tenure of Office Act, intimidating the Supreme Court over ex parte Milligan...Congress was dangerously power-hungry in this period. But they were on solid legal ground in regards to the 13th and 14th Amendment, as well as re-admittance of the Southern states. It's a shame Woods has decided to sacrifice historical accuracy for political expediency.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Straight from the Ministry of Truth


He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past

You all recognize that quote, I am sure. It's from the seminal George Orwell novel 1984. And I bring it up because of a disturbing book you should be aware of.


You can read the article at Slate here. But in short, it appears that Thomas E. Woods Jr., an assistant professor at Suffolk County Community College has written a "history" book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. It should come as no surprise it was published by.........Regnery!!


This book slants hard to the right, but not in a conservative intellectual way. In fact, some notable conservatives like Cathy Young and Max Boot have decried this book. The issue is that this book is written from the new theo-con, anti-intellectual, populist point of view. And is, therefore, a piece of crap.


So, what's the big deal, right? The big deal is that this faux-history is currently at #217 on Amazon.com. It's also being pushed by the mouthpieces of this new low-brow movement, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan. In other words, it is beginning to infect the national fabric and will inevitably start being used as a reference and educational tool in certain circles.


I hate politics distorting history. I hate it on the left (I am not a fan of Zinn), and I hate it on the right. And this book does distort.


For example, on the first page, Woods claims the colonists "came from one part of Europe. They spoke a common language." Now, the article points out that Woods totally ignores the millions of African slaves that came over as well. But he also ignores the Dutch, German and French colonists, never mind the American Indians who were already here. In fact, in the wake of the Revolution, the Federalist Papers were also printed in German and laws were considered to print government documents in German as well. These are basic facts. I'm not a professor, and even I know that the American Colonial period was not one of a strictly English flavor.


And if you can't even get the start right, what hope is there for the rest of the book? He says that the South did have the right to seceed, even though "there is, obviously, no provision in the Constitution that explicitly authorizes nullification." (Apparently, the writings of slave-owner John Calhoun trump the Constitution). And it's not the Civil War, but the "War Between the States." which is what Confederate apologists everywhere call it. In fact, here are a couple of paragraphs from Max Boot's piece in The Weekly Standard that really drive it home:


"Other, more ideologically charged (but nevertheless much more accurate) names for the conflict," he adds, helpfully, "include the War for Southern Independence and even the War of Northern Aggression." According to Woods, the war wasn't really about slavery (no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation). It was really about the desire of Northern plutocrats to protect themselves from the threat of commerce being diverted to "the South's low-tariff or free trade regime." He approvingly quotes H.L. Mencken's comment that Union soldiers "actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Well, not quite all their people. But the plight of African-Americans does not concern Woods any more than it did Mencken. Later on, he expresses disgust with federal desegregation policy in the 1950s and 1960s.



But first Woods gives a Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction, with evil Republican carpetbaggers trying to rape the virtuous South. He is particularly upset about the 14th Amendment (he claims it was never lawfully ratified) because it barred former Confederates from holding political office. "Thus," Woods laments, "the natural leadership class of the South would be disqualified from office and disgraced forever by having been dishonored in a constitutional amendment." It never occurs to Woods that "the natural leadership class" may have disgraced itself already by holding fellow human beings in bondage


Woods says we never should have entered World War I, saying we had no interest in the affair. But he makes no mention of the unrestricted warfare practiced by the Germans at sea that was sinking American shipping. And he completely ignores the Zimmerman Telegraph, which promised Mexico their old land back if they'd attack the United States.


And World War II? That wasn't cause by Hitler ravaging Europe or the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor. No, that was FDR's fault! Apparently we could have sat the second war out as well. I'm sure we'd have gotten along just swell with a Nazi-dominated Europe and the fascist Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.


I won't bore you with the rest of it (Guess how he feels about Clinton!). But it should come as no surprise that Asst. Professor Woods is a member of "The League of the South" If you are unfamiliar with these wingnuts, they support the secession of the South from the rest of the United States. How secession will affect Woods' employment at Suffolk County Community College in New York remains to be seen. They also tell their brethern not to "give control over their civilization and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants." I wonder if Sean Hannity believes that as well, since he seemed to like him so much.


This "book" is a fraud. Just from his rambling on the Civil War started proves it. How abolitionists were "agitators." How Lincoln was a big, bad man and that the war wasn't about slavery.


If, by some stroke of luck, Woods ever reads this...listen up, Chuckles. Lincoln may have been ambivalent about slavery. And the Emancipation Proclimation was as much a political maneuver to keep France and Britain out of the war as it was a justice of morals.


But there was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. There was Uncle Tom's Cabin. There was the Fugitive Slave Act and Dred Scott decision. John Brown's revolt. The Kansas-Nebraska Act. "Bleeding Kansas." The Underground Railroad. The very basis of the foundation of the Republican Party was to abolish slavery.


In short, slavery was THE defining issue of the first 75+ years of the United States' existence. Whether Abe fought the Civil War over slavery is irrelevant, because that is precisely why the rest of country was fighting.


Sadly, this farcical tome will be the latest brick in the groundswell of anti-intellectualism that is sweeping the country courtesy of the theo-cons that Republicans allowed to take over their party. Once the haven of intellectuals like Bill Buckley, Milton Friedman and Leo Strauss, they now are led by men who think that evolution is a fraud, that the Christian God should rule the land, and that history is emminently malleable.


If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.

Guess who's wearing that boot.

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