Monday, March 27, 2017

Reconstruction 1866-1877: An Assessment

The Reconstruction period is comparatively ignored, when judged by how much interest there is in other periods in American History like the Civil War upon which massive amounts of books have been and continue to be written.  The Reconstruction was the struggle of the American Republic to once again re-integrate the South. A vicious war was fought in which hundreds of thousands were killed in battle and many more wounded as well. The North was vindictive and wanted to punish the South for the rebellion. The South wanted to return to the pre-war economic and political system. They agreed to relieve the Black man from involuntary servitude. They concurred with President Johnson (1865-1868) that reunion should be simple. The Southerner should once again proclaim allegiance to the Constitution and concede the destruction of institution of slavery. And all would be good. The economic system would remain same as it was just without involuntary servitude and the Southerner would begin to govern as he saw fit. The states largely sovereign and retaining a measure of autonomy, leaving the Federal government the powers delimited in the Constitution.
Thus soon after the surrender in the Spring of 1865, the Southerner setup governments, proclaimed allegiance to the Federal government and legislated laws designed to consign the black to the plantation system: the plantation system that was the back bone of the economy. These laws were called the Black Codes. The Southerner was content that the Freedman had been granted right to own property, inherit, sit on a jury. The idea that the Freedman was a social equal was abhorrent to him, something unthinkable. The idea that you would invite the Freedman into your house to have social intercourse or worse yet the Freedman could consort with his daughter, would put the Southerner into apoplexy. Northern attitudes were not all that more different, it must be noted.
The Black codes, instituted just after the Civil War, included vagrancy laws for blacks who couldn’t demonstrate they were employed, whereby they would be consigned to convict leasing then they might find themselves back on the plantation. These laws required that Blacks sign Annual labor contracts and present them to authorities, at the risk of vagrancy. A special tax was levied on Blacks, left unpaid it placed the black in a legal state of vagrancy. Incidentally, Mississippi, Kentucky and Delaware first rejected the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery. In Mississippi blacks were restricted to being only able to rent land within the city. The significance of these laws was to consign the Freedman back to a state of involuntary servitude.

Once the North was apprised of the Southern disposition towards the Freedman, it immediately saw these actions as a betrayal of a bloody, terrible Civil War, where hundreds of thousands died.  The Southerner continued a pre-War understanding, claiming sovereignty of the states; meaning the Federal government should have little purview over the political compact of any particular state. In response the North enacted the 14th Amendment guaranteeing Civil Rights to the citizens of each state, the 15th Amendment granting voting rights to Blacks without regard to race, color or previous condition of servitude. The Freedman’s Bureau, hated by the White Southerner, was extended in 1866, as well. This provided protection, aid and education among other things to the Freedman. The White Southerner argued it fostered idleness and shiftlessness and fomented an overly aggressive Negro.

The Southerner saw the largely illiterate Freedman as in no condition to exercise the suffrage nor to lead politically. They were largely correct, but the backward state of the Freedman was due to the Southerner keeping them in a state of ignorance, poverty and servitude that was slavery. It could be surmised that a cultured black slave was not the most advantageous thing to be in Ante-Bellum South.

The Republican governments were universally corrupt. Practicing jobbery, selling off favors, funding large bond issues to benefit political allies, meant to be paid off by the White disenfranchised taxpayer. Taxes largely assessed on land rose dramatically in multiples. Large debt and deficits were run up by these states. In the Ante-Bellum political system the Planters kept taxation on land minimal. Funding Public schools was deemed an expensive burden. Once the Republicans began to govern Public Schools were established, although Whites refused to be educated with the Black, deemed their brutish, social inferiors. The White Southerner was soured with Republican rule for a century; even the Pro-Union Whigs went over to the Conservative/Democrats. The White Southerner was convinced that the Radical reform of suffrage to Blacks was a contrivance to insure Republican rule over the nation. 

The White Southern Confederate sympathizer was disenfranchised, under the Iron Clad oath. The Iron Clad Oath insisted the voter had never given help or granted assistance to the Rebellion, the Confederacy, which would encompass virtually all White males in the South. This was far harsher standard than the 14th Amendment which excluded the political and military leadership of the Confederacy.

The Federal military, at one point in time after the Civil War composed of enlisted Black regiments, gave a measure of protection to the Freedman, from the unremitting hostility of the White. The militarized White supporter of the Confederacy had faced death and injury in the Civil War, then came home to live in a country in which the Black could lord over them. There were some 100,000 Black soldiers in the South shortly after the war. In South Carolina these Black regiments demonstrated their predominance on occasion, marching down Main Street driving the White citizens off the side walk. These would infuriate the White Southerner, the White Southerner fully militarized that had fought the North in an exhausting war for four years until conquered in a campaign of total war. Hostility was such these Black regiments were disbanded eventually. 

The pace and depth of the attempt at Reconstruction varied for each state. However it all finished the same with Blacks disenfranchised. The White southerner struck back violently at first after the Civil War, then more sophisticated political methods were employed not to encounter the wrath of the North. The Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camelia wrecked terror on the Black population for a brief period in the late 1860s. The Black population no longer created havoc.  Later in South Carolina in 1870’s and elsewhere the Southerner organized himself in armed political groups wearing Red Shirts. They would show up at Republican rallies, largely Black and insist equal time. Later in the Century rabid racism was used in a strange concoction to rally an all-White Populism in the late Nineteenth Century. The Black soil conservatives (Democrats), heir of Plantation political sensibilities, used Black votes either paid for or fraudulently obtained to secure political hegemony. In response by excluding Blacks a block of White votes was formed that allowed the Progressives to gain power at the turn of the next century. See the Strange Case of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward for the interesting story how the South became segregated.  Woodrow Wilson, sympathetic to Southern Progressives, a friend of Thomas Dixon who inspired Birth of a Nation, waged a campaign of segregation in the Federal government once he became President. Wilson went to John Hopkins University with his friend, Thomas Dixon, author of  Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Klu Klux Klan. It’s odd how academics rate his Presidency so high.

Of all the tragedies of the Southern race relations was the obliviousness of the fact in a significant way the American Black is a cousin to the White Southerner. Your cousin has 25% of the genes you do.  Geneticists estimate the Afro-American is something like 30% Caucasian. Blacks today when they take the now popular DNA tests discover much to their shock they might be 50% or more European. In Ante-Bellum South there really had been a large of measure racial admixture, subsequently deemed so abhorrent to the White. The Supreme Court in 1967 finally struck down the anti-miscegenation laws of State of Virginia. This of course was an ironic joke based on the ample mixing of races in the Ante-Bellum South.  The Southern Overseer callously used his position of authority to extract sexual favors. In other cases female chattel might became a recipient of the Plantation owner’s attentions, frustrated with the mother of his children who refused to once again risk the perils of child birth. The Southerner should have known the closeness of relation to his Black servant, but treated the Black as nearly a sub-species. The new Freedman, who was left ignorant and infantile, was hardly in position to run a state; but that was due to the condition in which they were subjected in Ante-Bellum South for generations; left in a condition of ignorance and poverty.

The depth of the notions of racial superiority can be weighed by the following quote: 

The Delaware legislature resolved in 1866, “The immutable laws of God have affixed upon the brow of the white races the ineffaceable stamp of superiority, and that all attempts to elevate the negro to a social or political equality of the white man is futile and subversive of the ends and aims of the which the American Government was established.”

I suspect the newly disseminated ideas of Darwin (Origin of the Species, 1859) had a significant impact on this type of thinking, as well. The same kind of thinking that could lead an entire German political party several decades later to surmise an Eastern European Slav was racially inferior; someone, whose physical characteristics appeared virtually identical to the German individual across the Polish border.

Southerners complaints of the Freedman were plentiful. There was enough report by the White Southerner of mis-behavior of the Freedman to grant credence to it being widespread. The Freedman left the Plantation for a life of freedom and largely undisciplined. The Freedman was not the submissive Step-n-fetch-it portrayed in early 20th Century cinema; he was loath to take instruction. But previously on the Ante-Bellum plantation the Black slave was brutalized into submission and the fruits of his labor stolen from him and was excluded from any profitable independent opportunities. If you wanted to dis-incentivize someone against industry and entrepreneurial activities, this is the system.  Release from that system tended toward idleness, lawlessness, criminality and mischief. Thievery from such things as vegetable gardens and livestock were common.  There were mysterious fires as well that burned down house and barn.

One attempt to recover order was the establishment of the Klu Klux Klan that did so much to terrorize the Freedman. The economy was in ruin from war and the loss of the free labor of millions of Blacks. The White Southern, impoverished and disenfranchised saw their all too violent activities as justifiable attempt to restore order and suppress the power of the Freedmen and their Freedman Bureau and Union and Loyal Leagues. The terror restored order but also enlisted a response from the North in the enactment of the Enforcement acts 1870 to 1871. The Enforcement acts authorized the use of the Army to combat these para-legal groups. Military Districts were set up in authority above the state governments.  The KKK was suppressed, as a result.

The racial violence in the post-Civil War is shocking. The KKK is well known but actually operated only for a short while; it was never centralized and quickly became infested with criminal elements detached from the original intentions at least as described by the good Southerner. Overt expressions of it were suppressed by the Federal military in the early 1870’s. The KKK aside, there were out breaks of violence and additional violent political movements in the Reconstruction period.
The riots in Memphis in May, 1866 and New Orleans in July saw dozens of Freedmen killed and driven away. In Louisiana some 1,081, virtually all, Blacks were killed between April and November 1868 in Louisiana in political violence. Later in the 1875-1876 Red Shirts acted as a paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party in Mississippi and South Carolina. They broke up Republican meetings, disrupted their organizing, and intimidated black voters at the polls. 

During Reconstruction 1867-1877 there were several Radical administrations of course, that had a large number of Black representatives in the Legislatures, supported by the Federal Military districts that might incorporate disenfranchisement of White Southerner under the Iron Clad oaths. Plus there was a great deal of attempts at black voter suppression that required Federal intervention to counter act them. National politics ultimately intervened to take the focus off the plight of the Black. The sabotage of the Supreme Court insured that Blacks in America would remain a race apart and denied opportunity. 

Republicans were insistent on the suffrage for Blacks. Ultimately the Republicans didn’t deliver on a significant improvement in the economic situation of the Freedman. The idea of 40 acres and a mule was still born, despite Pennsylvania Senator Thaddeus Stevens’s support. Even the suffrage was taken away eventually. 

An astonishingly huge 200,000,000 acres were given to the rail roads. 1862 Homestead Act eventually gave away some 270,000,000 acres. 70,000 Plantation owners were said to have owned over 300,000,000 acres in the South. Yet, nothing was granted to the Freedman, left destitute and dependent on the Plantation for work. Nonetheless, the idea that land could be simply confiscated was a violation of property rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In contrast Radical Senator Thaddeus Stevens deemed the South a conquered province, not rebellious States that had NO right to succeed. Confiscation of the Planters, initiators of the Rebellion, was right and proper. Yet if a State couldn’t succeed then how could it lose its status as one, others retorted. Land grants to Blacks were left a fantasy.

Great blame must be laid on the Supreme Court, much revered in today’s society as a champion of social progress, for the crippling of the Civil Rights Legislation passed in the Reconstruction period. In 1876 Supreme Court pontificated in U.S vs. Cruishank that the Federal Enforcement Acts met to protect the Freedman were void.  This was in response to the Easter Sunday April 13, 1873 Colfax, Louisiana massacre, where over a hundred Blacks were murdered as they convened in the Colfax Court house. Arrests of the perpetrators were made under these same Enforcement Acts. The convictions were annulled under this ruling.

Later in 1883 the provisions of the 1875 Civil Rights legislation, banning discrimination in public venues like hotels and restaurants, were deemed Unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled from its Olympian wisdom that The 14th Amendment pertained only to the actions of the States NOT to individuals within the States, thus opening the way to legalized segregation.

A democratic system in which in most cases Whites were in the majority didn’t induce a situation in which great social renovations could be allowed that would advantage the minority Black. Neither would a government of limits and laws allow for social revolution. Sadly, today we have a system that places the inner city Black in a state of dependency; schools failing and families in disarray and drugs and crime rampant. I can only wonder if a Radical plan of land distribution had been attempted and absent the Supreme Courts gutting of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Civil Rights Laws, the racial divisions and social division could have been avoided. But it likely would have taken a military regime decades to accomplish it against virulent opposition of the Southern White.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Eisenhower Presidency: An Assessment

Eisenhower (1953-1961) should be listed as one of the great Presidents. For their own reasons academics prefer Truman and Kennedy whose administrations pale in comparison. Just in the popularity with the American People they are sharply in contrast. President Eisenhower’s approval rating was close to 70%. Truman’s approval rating dipped into the 20’s% at the end of this administration. Obama’s averaged less than 50%. Kennedy’s approval in his short tenure was quite high at around 70%. There were no wars during his administration. The Federal Budgets were generally balanced, something that doesn’t currently appear to be realizable.  The economy grew 37% during his administration. Inflation was low as well. The country was tranquil at home and abroad.
Largely, upon veiled threat of use of tactical nuclear weapons he was able to end the Korean War. The threat was communicated to India who passed it along to the Communist Chinese. The Communist Chinese came to a negotiated agreement that split Korea at the 38th parallel. The agreement was against the wishes of the South Korean leader Rhee who wanted to continue the propagation of the war but was informed if he wanted to continue the war, it would be alone.

Eisenhower insisted on balanced budgets. He fought the conservative wing of the Republican Party against tax cuts that might imbalance the budget. He fought back against increases in the defense budget, as well. In fact he sharply lowered the President Truman’s defense budget by several billion against the opposition of the chiefs of the three branches of the military. He saw military expenditure as coming out the hard earned labor of the common people.

While war was threated several times, only ONE soldier died in combat under his eight year administration. He refused to become involved in South East Asia as the French wished he would. . Kennedy would make the mistake of becoming more involved in South East Asia by inserting American troops into Vietnam that eventually led to catastrophic failure.  Truman initially drew down the military too much and failed to include Korean as within the American sphere of influence. This led to the aggression of North Korea in 1950. Of course with adept foreign policy he concluded the Korean War in 1953. He offered protocols to reduce the threat of nuclear war to the Soviets. Kennedy despite keeping a cool head brought USA to the brink of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956 and propaganda from Radio Free Europe led the Hungarians into thinking assistance in the event of an uprising was forthcoming by the West in 1956. But Eisenhower stood pat as the Soviets sent in tanks to crush the revolution in Hungary in 1956. This was a tacit confirmation of the Yalta pact in 1945 that divided Europe into spheres of influence. It would have taken another world war to revise it and this it would be nuclear. Eisenhower sagaciously eschewed conflict. Four decades later the empire fell on its own incompetence and inefficiency.  Eisenhower was busy at the time in 1956 with the Suez Crisis in which France, the UK and Israel conspired to grab back the recently nationalized Suez Canal and secure the State of Israel. Eisenhower insisted they give up colonial aspirations. Nasir of Egypt was allowed to nationalize the canal and Britain and France stood down. 

Kiang Kai Shek, leader of the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan, tried to force a war over two tiny islands, Quemoy and Matsu, within firing distance of Communist China. China threatened to use military force to occupy it. Kiang Kai-Shek hoped to re-ignite the civil war again mainland China with America’s assistance. Eisenhower would have none of it.

Monetary inflation was kept to a moderate level. In contrast during Truman administration inflation ran up to 9% in 1951. Inflation is a product of too much money chasing too few goods. Federal Reserve’s generation of money supply is determinate as to levels of inflation. Any price increase on a particular product like the shortage of oil will not in itself cause general monetary inflation, since an increase in price in one product will likely cause a decrease in other prices. It takes something like the Central bank to effect monetary inflation. Eisenhower’s bank exercised prudence.

Eisenhower won’t get credit for this but large urban areas were quiet and free of upheavals seen in the Sixties. Even crime was historically low. Eisenhower won’t get credit for that either. However, the prescription of Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s, no matter how much it was justified, didn’t become the magic fix it was meant to be, as it appears from fifty years hindsight
Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s raised expectations and resulted in race riots in many Cities, alienating Whites, who fled the cities and abandoned the African-Americans in segregated Ghettos. Today these inner cities remain pockets of poverty and crime. In Michigan where I live Detroit and Flint are prime examples. Both were huge centers for auto production and now are essentially devoid of any. Dozens of auto plants have been built in America in the last four decades, most by foreign manufacturers. None in the inner cities. Political solutions to racial issues are limited in their efficacy, when social elements play a large part of the problem. 

1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik to the shock of America. The tiny satellite broadcast a radio signal that could be picked up around the world. Due to budgetary constraints launching satellites were not high on priority, the Atlas missile was designed for delivering nuclear warheads intercontinentally. After being shown up by the Soviets, the space program began in earnest. Kennedy would spend billions on a trip to the moon. Something Eisenhower found largely quixotic, wanting to emphasize the military, scientific and technical aspects.

In 1959 two weeks before a Paris summit to discuss restraints on nuclear weapon, the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane. The Eisenhower administration not aware of the details assumed that both the pilot and planet had crashed and were destroyed. When the Soviets first reported the incident, the Eisenhower administration lied, saying it was weather plane that strayed off course due to a malfunction. A U-2 plane was hastily repainted with NASA colors and sent out to the media. The Soviets latter revealed that not only had the plane been retrieved, the pilot was alive as well. Eisenhower was caught in a lie and the peace conference was cancelled. Relations with the Soviets worsened.

U-2 spy flights did establish the state of the Soviets nuclear weapon competence. They lacked the Air Force and submarine capabilities that USA had, which was well know and had only a few ICBM’s. The USA had some 650 B-52’s, some 300 Polaris missiles deliverable by nuclear submarine plus many more ICBM’s than the Soviets.

Kenney was informed, once nominated for the Democrat Presidency, in 1960 that United States had a massive advantage in ICBM, plane and submarine nuclear capability over Soviet Union. Kennedy continued to lie about the putative missile gap in his campaign to gain voters.

Eisenhower is criticized for not addressing the civil rights issues. Yet, the first civil rights laws in some 80 years were passed in 1957. These were largely gutted by Senate Democrats specifically Lyndon B. Johnson, so they didn’t have the impact of latter Civil Rights legislation. The Dixiecrats held a strangle hold on the advancement of Civil Rights legislation since the Reconstruction ended in the 1870’s. So, Black voter suppression and Jim Crow segregation laws went unchallenged in the South. Something I experienced, as a child in the 1950’s in Missouri when I saw a White’s only drinking fountain and didn’t realize it referred to race.

Eisenhower in addition sent in Federal Troops to enforce school integration in Little Rock, AR in 1957, segregation ordered by the Supreme Court. Admittedly, Eisenhower had little sensitivity to Civil Rights; however his Attorney General Herbert Brownell had much input into these issues and including the nature of judicial picks. Neither Truman nor Kennedy worked actively for Civil Rights in terms of legislation. In fact Kennedy voted against Eisenhower’s Civil Rights act of 1957.  No Civil Rights legislation was passed under their administrations. Driven by events Kennedy became more sympathetic to Civil Rights issues later in his short tenure.

Eisenhower’s Supreme Court picks of Warren and Brennan were the forefront of judicial activism. The first ruling of the Warren Court was Brown vs. School Board of 1954 that struck down separate but equal school systems. The Warren Court went on to remove school prayer, insist on the recitation of Miranda Rights to the arrested and representation being appointed, when none was available, for the accused and the Court increased the standard for search and seizure among other things. Eisenhower seems to get no credit for his revolution in the Court.

Eisenhower has been criticized for secret machinations by the Dulles’ CIA in Iraq, Guatemala, and elsewhere but these underhanded measures where in lieu of a more upfront aggression that could have led to war. Fear of Soviet takeover played a part in both those coup d’├ętats.

As for Truman, highly regarded by academics, he left the country with high inflation and what appeared to be a war without exit and an approval rating in the 20s percentile, lowest approval rating for Presidents since WWII. Truman also had to be forced to accept legislation that engineered labor peace: the Taft Hartley act, passed over his veto. Prior to this labor unrest was allowed to wreak havoc on the economy. 

In balance Truman’s Marshall Plan the provided aid to war torn Western Europe was historic and did much to restore Western Europe to peace and prosperity. A combined military command was created under his administration, NATO; Eisenhower was appointed to lead NATO at this time incidentally in 1951-1952. Truman got much criticism for the failure to support Chaing Kai-Shek Nationalists that led to the rise of Communist China and Mao Tse Tung: a symptom of America’s historic idealistic foreign policy, revisited several times with much failure. Examples being  Wilson’s Fourteen Points at the conclusion of WWI, Iran 1979 and Iraq in 2003, foreign policy that failed to face historical realities and the complexities of culture, religion and politics, only wanting to create a world made safe for Democracy.

Controversially Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb (something Eisenhower opposed but arguably was NOT in the decision loop) against civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: an act of war that continues to be controversial in its horrific barbarity.