The Second Confederacy

Sam Smith

 When I started out as a reporter, the South was so powerful on Capitol Hill that some of my northern friends working there developed a bit of a southern accent. It was, after all, the official patois of a Congress run by the likes of Strom Thurmond, Harry Byrd and Russell Long.

 Just a year earlier and over 90 years after what was supposedly the end of the Civil War,  a group of senators and representatives had signed something called the Southern Manifesto. Its key points, as described by historian Rory O’More, were:

 – The US Supreme Court’s decisions in segregation cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, did not follow either the Constitution or established precedent.

 – The second idea in the Manifesto, echoing the slaveholders’ argument of 100 years before, was that segregation was beneficial to everyone in the South: It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.

– Finally, the Manifesto foresaw turmoil if the separate but equal doctrine was eliminated by court action….

Six southern states had Congressional delegations that were fully Democratic and signed the manifesto unanimously.

The supporters of this manifesto included people like Senator William Fulbright, admired by liberals as the founder of the Fulbright scholarships; Senator John Sparkman, Adlai Stevenson’s running mate; and  Sen. Sam Ervin,  later chair of the Senate Watergate committee;

It was then that I was first introduced to the notion that the Civil War might  have ended as a northern military victory, secession might have been avoided, and slavery was eliminated, but that in a surprising number of other ways, the battle continued with the south often winning.

Nor was the modern civil rights conflict the end of the battle. The current GOP confederacy – successor to the southern segregationist Democrats – has dedicated itself to destroying more national policies and values than at any time in American history save the Civil War. It is attempting to do with money, propaganda, and legislative manipulation what the original Confederacy sought to achieve with troops.

To be sure it is not attempting to re-institute slavery. But bear in mind that while we naturally concern ourselves with the human atrociousness of the slave system, its practitioners saw it mainly as an economic matter. It was merely capitalism taken to its logical extreme.

Historian Eric Foner points out that by 1770,

Profits derived from slavery furnished up to a third of Britain’s capital formation, and slave-grown products had became ubiquitous in England, emblems of a rising bourgeoisie and common even in the working class . . .

 Now, as then, commerce unrestrained by social control ends up stripping economic relations of all moral content, while the drive toward fulfilling market demands at the lowest possible price created widespread indifference to the conditions under which marketable goods are produced. Today’s Chinatown sweatshops and Third World child labor factories are the functional equivalents of colonial slavery in that the demands of the consumer and the profit drive of the entrepreneur overwhelm the rights of those whose labor actually produces the salable commodity.

 In America, by the time of the Civil War, slaves were the country’s most valuable capital asset. In a nation with an annual federal budget of only $50 million, slaves had a market value of $2 billion, or more than twice that of all the country’s railroads.

 Today’s Republicans similarly consider workers to be a capital asset, what Eric From called “homo mechanicus.”  and while they do not advocate maximizing this asset through slavery they are willing to take an astounding variety of steps to move today’s worker closer to that state such as refusing to raise the minimum wage, assaults on labor unions, ending various worker protections, as well as slashing welfare programs and food stamps.

 It is also true that Republicans do not advocate secession. But in a strange way what they propose is worse, namely that their values be not limited to a separated segment of a former country, but be required throughout the whole nation

To understand why calling today’s Republicans a confederacy is not an exaggeration, it helps to go back to the post-Reconstruction and Redeemer period when southern Democrats attempted to recover as much as possible of the ground they had lost in the war.

Here are some similarities with today’s Republicans as outlined by Wikipedia:

– They worked to reestablish white supremacy.

– Redeemers denounced taxes higher than what they had known before the war.

– Redeemers wanted to reduce state debts. Once in power, they typically cut government spending; shortened legislative sessions; lowered politicians’ salaries; scaled back public aid to railroads and corporations; and reduced support for the new systems of public education and some welfare institutions.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas provides some more similar lies with today’s GOP:

Politicians generally protected large landed interests, passing laws that kept tax rates low, despite pressing needs…Repeated efforts at increasing taxes and changing the assessment system failed. Large landowners’ power also could be seen in legislation on labor issues. Generally, new statutes passed through these years strengthened the power of landowners over their tenants, the most important measure being to give the landowner the first lien over a tenant’s crop. At the same time, the legislature did nothing to protect the tenant against the all-too-common predatory practices of landowners and merchants.

The same leaders wanted the state to be a part of the national prosperity at the time, but that required spending for education and new agencies. On the other hand, they tried to make operations as inexpensive as possible. In the case of the state’s prison, leaders tried to fund it by making it self-supporting. Private contractors leased prisoners, and the income from the leases went to pay for the expenses of the prison. …

The legislature provided minimal funds for education and left support for schools primarily to local school districts. The black population was particularly victimized by policies to keep costs down. …Officials kept costs low by providing them with second-class or no schools and other cut-rate services.

These stunningly eerie echoes come as the Republican Confederacy is attempting to undo as much of America’s past eight decades of progress as possible, just as the original confederacy attempted to separate itself from as much of America’s first eight decades of progress as possible.

 Slavery, secession and the Gettysburg are over. But the war continues.

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