Short Takes

by Fred Ray on March 29, 2009 · 3 comments

Regardless of what you think caused the Late Unpleasantness, state’s rights remain a live issue, enough to make the Christian Science Monitor devote an article to it. As you might expect, South Carolina is involved:

Atlanta – There’s an old joke in South Carolina: Confederate President Jefferson Davis may have surrendered at the Burt-Stark mansion in Abbeville, S.C., in 1865, but the people of state Rep. Michael Pitts’s district never did.

With revolutionary die-hards behind him, Mr. Pitts has fired a warning shot across the bow of the Washington establishment. As the writer of one of 28 state “sovereignty bills” – one even calls for outright dissolution of the Union if Washington doesn’t rein itself in – Pitts is at the forefront of a states’ rights revival, reasserting their say on everything from stem cell research to the Second Amendment.

“Washington can be a bully, but there’s evidence right now that there are people willing to resist our bully,” said Pitts, by phone from the state capitol of Columbia.

Different states have different issues, of course. In California it’s pot, and the state has lately discovered state’s rights to protect their policies on medical marijuana. Others are not happy with the ban on Federal stem cell research or its Second Amendment policies. Idaho is unhappy with wolves. The map, however, shows that states rights isn’t just for Dixie any more.

Ira Stoll, whose opinions I generally respect, pens an article bashing Jimmy Carter, someone whose opinions I generally have little use for. Stoll’s ire is risen by Carter’s remarks in In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary By Distinguished Americans, and specifically by this:

A legitimate question for historians is how soon the blight of slavery would have been terminated peacefully in America, as in Great Britain and other civilized societies.

Stoll is indignant:

How much patience should Lincoln have had with the immoral institution? How many more lashes should have fallen on the backs of American blacks during Carter’s hypothetical waiting period for slavery to terminate “peacefully”? The period wouldn’t have been particularly peaceful for the slaves. One might as well argue that the bloodshed of the American Revolution could have been avoided, given that British rule was eventually terminated peacefully in Canada.

It hurts to say so, but Carter is right here. The United States is the only Western society that went to war over abolition (assuming, of course, that you assign that as the main or sole cause of the conflict). Even Brazil, which had far more slaves and an economy more dependent on it, peacefully abolished the institution in 1888, the last nation in the Western Hemisphere to do so.

Stoll adopts the attitude of the most radical abolitionists—that this moral evil must be extirpated immediately, regardless of the cost—but he does not mention or count that cost. Between 650,000 and 700,000 Americans died on the battlefield out of a population just under of 32 million souls (four million of whom were in bondage). Today, with a population roughly ten times as large, this would mean a death toll of between and six and seven million, with another 20-25 million wounded. And we haven’t even mentioned civilian deaths, the suspension of civil liberties, or the devastation of half the country. Notwithstanding the fact that it would have put all us Civil War historians out of business, of course it would have better to have had a peaceful solution, and it’s worthwhile to ask why one couldn’t be found. Stoll’s attitude does give us a clue, however.

Finally, I recommend you take a look at artist Andy Thomas’s web site and art. Based in Carthage, Missouri, he specializes in portrayals of the American West, including Civil War subjects like guerrillas and battles like Vicksburg and Prairie Grove.

My favorite, however, is a fantasy portrait of America’s Republican presidents seen as a friendly poke game. Ronald Reagan appears to be either calling or raising Abe Lincoln (and yes, there’s another one for you Democrats, but I don’t like it as much because it makes Andy Jackson look too stiff. I think he’d have enjoyed a drink and a poker game.)


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan March 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Interesting how both Old Hickory and Honest Abe have their backs to the viewer; everyone else is either full frontal, or in profile. That must have been a conscious choice, but I wonder what prompted it: a desire to cloak these 19th-century presidents in mystery, in order to amplify their status as venerable politicians (and thus, in contrast, making the other presidents look more like “good old boys”)…or perhaps a suspicion that a chucking, grinning Jackson or a chuckling, grinning Lincoln just wouldn’t look right.

…Or maybe I’m overanalyzing this art?

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Dave March 29, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Ha ha ha. . . I *love* those paintings. I first saw them about six months ago– there’s an art store in the Crystal City, Virginia underground mall that has both the GOP and Democrats paintings in the window. I stopped cold in my tracks when I saw them. . . it was just so dang odd, I was mesmerized/fascinated/wigged out.

*Almost* better than dogs playing poker or pool.

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Will Hickox March 29, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Professor Wilson is obviously uncomfortable with this crowd, and is barely tolerating Lyndon Johnson’s foul-mouthed observations!

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