American Values

Less Jefferson, More Franklin

The third post in the Volokh Conspiracy symposium on "Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative" (ed. by Joshua Claybourn).

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

My reward for ten years of blogging is a guest post here. In all seriousness, I'm very grateful to Eugene and his co-conspirators for giving me the opportunity to write about my contribution to Our American Story.

Some of the essays in the book preach the faith that what makes our national experience special are the universal ideals of liberty and equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence and made concrete by the Constitution. My essay takes the opposite view. What made the United States distinctive was its political pragmatism. The emblem of that approach is Benjamin Franklin, the Founder who is rarely invoked by the Supreme Court. (Though, as Randy would surely point out, the Chief Justice did cite Franklin's line about "death and taxes" in his opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act.) Franklin famously said at the close of the Constitutional Convention that he supported the proposal in spite of its many flaws. And his literary alter ego in Poor Richard's Almanack once explained: "In the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it."

Why do I say that our true national creed is pragmatism? Part of the answer is that this was the conclusion of the leading European commentators on the United States well into the twentieth century. Let me give you three examples. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked: "Nothing has made me admire the good sense and the practical intelligence of the Americans," he wrote, "more than the way they avoid the innumerable difficulties deriving from their Federal Constitution." Walter Bagehot, the founding editor of The Economist and author of a classic book on The English Constitution, wrote in the 1860s: "Americans now extol their institutions and so defraud themselves of their due praise . . . If they had not a genius for politics, if they had not a moderation in action singularly curious where superficial speech is so violent . . . the multiplicity of authorities in the American Constitution would long ago have brought it to a bad end. Sensible shareholders, I have heard a shrewd attorney say, can work any deed of settlement; and so the men of Massachusetts could, I believe, work any constitution." And James Bryce, who served as Britain's Ambassador to the United States from 1907-13, said that he was dubious of what he called the "tools" provided by the Constitution, but "[t]he defects of the tools are the glory of the workman." What he meant was that "the American people have a practical aptitude for politics, a clearness of vision and capacity for self-government never equaled in any other nation." "Such a people," Bryce concluded, "can work any Constitution."

I doubt that any foreign observers would say the same thing about the United States now. Political practice today more closely resembles Jefferson's uncompromising ideals rather than Franklin's common sense. Indeed, we are approaching the point where Barry Goldwater's adage: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" will be a description and not a slogan. The problem with even the best ideals is that they become dangerous fictions when taken literally. (Jefferson himself said many crazy things but almost always acted cautiously.)

Since a shared identity probably must be rooted in the nation's Founding, my modest suggestion is that we elevate the Founder who was not a lawyer or a theorist. Franklin's experience came from the most practical of pursuits–first as a publisher, then as a scientist, and finally as a diplomat. He was the pioneer of what we now call civic society in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia. As Franklin said in his proposal for what became the University of Pennsylvania, education should cultivate "an inclination joined with an ability to serve mankind, one's country, friends and family." So should politics.

NEXT: Pirates, Pot, and Police: The Supreme Court Has Been Busy

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  1. “Political practice today more closely resembles Jefferson’s uncompromising ideals rather than Franklin’s common sense.”

    It’s disappointing that scholars only read headlines and listen to the noise like the rest of us schmoes, and don’t actually see the reality.

    The House and Senate passed a bill to fund efforts to fight the illegal opioid trade and treat those addicted by 98-1 and 393-8 vote, respectively.

    A 5-year, nearly $100 billion FAA re-authorization bill that’s been roiling D.C. for years passed on Oct. 3 by 93-6 in the Senate and 398-23 in the House.

    A defense appropriations bill signed into law by the president on Sept. 28 also covered health and human services, education, and labor. It had a total of over $850 billion in allocations, and passed 93-7 in the Senate and 361-61 in the House.

    Sure, there are political fights (which, ahem, is a good thing), but to make blanket statements about “uncompromising ideals” is . . . disappointing.

    1. plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  2. If the U. S. is so pragmatic, how did we end up with a civil war over slavery?

    Near the end of his life, Franklin (apparently deviating from his prior practice) became a strong antislavery advocate. As President of an antislavery society in Pennsylvania, he petitioned Congress to go to the very limits of its power to fight slavery.

    This part of the petition is particularly noteworthy: “That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty being, alike objects of his Care & equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness the Christian Religion teaches us to believe & *the Political Creed of America* fully coincides with the Position.” (emphasis added)

    It was this sort of abolitionist sentiment which finally led the Confederate states to secede to protect their Peculiar Institution, precipitating the Civil War.

    1. And here is a satire Franklin wrote to, in modern terms, own the pro-slavers:

    2. “how did we end up with a civil war over slavery?”

      It was a war over secession and federalism.

        1. Abe Lincoln said:
          “I have no purpose, directly or in-directly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
          “My policy sought only to collect the Revenue (a 40 percent federal sales tax on imports to Southern States under the Morrill Tariff Act of 1861).”
          “In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”

          And then upon secession, he declared war but made no mention of slavery, instead saying:
          “Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out ..and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed.” Apr. 19 1861 Lincoln’s war proclamation against Confederate States

          South Carolina, in leading the secession of the Confederate States in Dec 1860:

          “The Revolution of 1776, turned upon one great principle, self-government, –and self-taxation, the criterion of self-government. Where the interests of two people united together under one Government, are different, each must have the power to protect its interests by the organization of the Government, or they cannot be free..
          The Southern States, now stand exactly in the same position towards the Northern States, that the Colonies did towards Great Britain. The Northern States, having the majority in Congress, claim the same power of omnipotence in legislation as the British parliament. ..
          The consolidation of the Government of Great Britain over the Colonies, was attempted to be carried out by the taxes. …
          And so with the Southern States, towards the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation. They are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress, is useless to protect them against unjust taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North. The people of the South have been taxed by duties on imports, not for revenue, but for an object inconsistent with revenue–to promote, by prohibitions, Northern interests in the productions of their mines and manufactures.

          There is another evil, in the condition of the Southern toward the Northern States, which our ancestors refused to bear toward Great Britain. Our ancestors not only taxed themselves, but all the taxes collected from them, were expended among them. Had they submitted to the pretensions of the British Government, the taxes collected from them, would have been expended in other parts of the British Empire. They were fully aware of the effect of such a policy in impoverishing the people from whom taxes are collected, and in enriching those who receive the benefit of their expenditure. To prevent the evils of such a policy, was one of the motives which drove them on to Revolution. Yet this British policy, has been fully realized towards the Southern States, by the Northern States. The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three-fourths of them are expended at the North.”

          –Address of South Carolina | December 25, 1860

          The Emancipation Proclamation itself states that it was “a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing” the rebellion against taxes. The Emancipation Proclamation itself offered to let the South keep slavery, if they would only come back and pay the 40 percent sales tax within 3 months. Only if they did not do so within 3 months, would slaves be emancipated as a war measure, and even then the million slaves under Northern control were exempted including General Grant’s.

          Then you have the war itself, which is different from secession. Retaining self-government and independence was the reason for secession, and slavery was sadly one of the examples of self-government in that day. But the war was started by Lincoln and the south acted in self-defense. Secession and war are two different things. Link: “After the first states seceded, many in the Northern press expressed opposition to war with the South. Writing in the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley declared, “We hope never to live in a republic where one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.” (6)

          The Tribune was among the great newspapers of its time, an influential journal of the Republican party, and Greeley was among the day’s opinion leaders.

          Moreover, many of Lincoln’s advisors also recommended against any action that might lead to a war with the South. Even Lincoln’s top Army commander wanted nothing to do with war. “Let the wayward sisters depart in peace,” urged General Winfield Scott.

          Secretary of State, William Seward, also advised the new president to let the rebellious states go and avoid actions that could upset the states of the upper-South. He thought that eventually, the aggrieved states would see the error of their ways and campaign for reunification. “I do not think it wise to provoke a Civil War beginning in Charleston and in rescue of an untenable position,’’ Seward insisted.

          But it didn’t take long before Northern newspaper editors did the math and realized what secession really meant for Northern enterprises..”

          1. “It was necessary to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery.” — Woodrow Wilson

            “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” — Abe Lincoln

            “The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.” — Charles Dickens

            1. Apologists for and appeasers of bigotry are among my favorite faux libertarians.

              1. Thanks for the help, Kirkland, I really appreciate your support. 🙁

                1. You figure this is the thing that will turn the half-century tide of the culture war — and to turn it toward favoring conservatives? Is this the end of the liberal-libertarian mainstream’s shaping of American progress?

                  I doubt it.

                  1. As predictable as a wind-up music box.

                    1. As predictable as the improvement in America’s electorate, the continuing trajectory of American progress, and the rejection of right-wing political preferences.

            2. Also from the South Carolina declaration:

              “…an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”

              The fact that the North was dragged unwillingly into adding emancipation/abolition to its war aims doesn’t contradict the thesis that the war was about slavery.

              The sequence of events is, to put it mildly, suggestive:

              (a) Southern states seceded, most announcing slavery as the prime cause

              (b) The North goes to war to bring the South back, while at first disclaiming emancipationist intent

              (c) This initial reluctance gives way to an emancipationist policy

              (d) At the risk of his re-election in 1864, Lincoln announces emancipation along with reunion as the irreducible minimum conditions for stopping the war

              (e) Slavery gets abolished.

              1. And Wilson was a nationalist racist who praised Lincoln *despite,* not *because of,* Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves.

                1. Check this out from 2 days ago: China Invokes Abraham Lincoln in Justifying Push to Take Taiwan

                  The legacy lives on! And what legacy is that? China isn’t talking about slavery or emancipation, of course. They’re talking about tyrannical opposition to self-government.

                  Last century too, there was a little book called Mein Kampf, with a chapter called “Federalism as a Mask”, and that author was also very fond of Lincoln’s view of things. From Mises Institute, Confronting the Lincoln Cult: “Hitler’s own book, Mein Kampf, which makes a case for the German union in the same terms that Lincoln made the case for American union.

                  Hitler writes that “individual states of the American Union . . . could not have possessed any state sovereignty of their own. For it was not these states that formed the Union, on the contrary it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states.” This was also Lincoln’s view.

                  Hitler goes on to say: “Certainly all the states in the world are moving toward a certain unification in their inner organization. And in this Germany will be no exception. Today it is an absurdity to speak of a ‘state sovereignty’ of individual provinces.” And further: “In particular we cannot grant to any individual state within the nation and the state representing it state sovereignty and sovereignty in point of political power.” Finally: “National Socialism as a matter of principle, must lay claim to the right to force its principles on the whole German nation without consideration of previous federated state boundaries.””

                  So, it appears the civil war, or as it might be more accurately called the failed revolutionary war for independence, was about more than just slavery. Slavery would have ended either way, but the larger principles that were actually at issue are of enduring relevance. In fact, they will only become more relevant in time as the march for centralization of government seems set to continue and expand globally. Yes, at that time in history threats/infringements to slavery were seen as one of the primary manifestations of hostility to self-government and independence, paradoxically so, because slavery is a denial of human dignity and self-determination. But the North absolutely didn’t go to war for a noble cause of freeing slaves, they did it for economic reasons (as usual with wars) and to protect tax revenue which was paid 80% by the South. Abolitionists were a minority, which is why Lincoln and other pols distanced themselves from them adamantly. Lincoln was also in favor of “colonization”, removing black people to Africa or the Caribbean.

                  “While any reasonable person today would find [Lincoln’s] remarks abhorrent and bigoted, it was not outside the popular thinking of the period. In fact, the idea of the colonization of blacks was so popular that Lincoln proposed it as an amendment to the Constitution in his second annual message to Congress in 1862. (21)

                  Colonization was a staple of Lincoln’s speeches and public comments from 1854 until about 1863. Lincoln’s views on race contrast sharply with his modern era image of the “Great Emancipator.”

                  Indeed, his public remarks, which are well-documented, indicate he had little regard for blacks.

                  “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races.” (22)

                  And this is where the myth of the sympathetic North begins to unravel as well. While there was a strong abolitionist movement in the North, it was so small that Lincoln and other politicians didn’t associate themselves with it.

                  Contrary to popular modern-day belief, most white Northerners treated blacks with disdain, discrimination, and violence during the period leading up to the Civil War. Blacks were not allowed to vote, marry, or use the judicial system. ..

                  As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America, “the prejudice of the race appears to be stronger in the States which have abolished slavery, than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known.” (23)”

                  1. You’re getting into a new issue – was the Civil War worth the price in lives and liberty? Did it set bad precedents?

                    It doesn’t change the fact that slavery caused it.

                    “the myth of the sympathetic North”

                    I’m don’t think I went quite so far as to endorse that myth, I even mentioned how the North was as it were forced by events into freeing the slaves.

                    Like Wilson, Hitler and the Chinese regime praised Lincoln in spite of, not because of, his freeing the slaves.

                    As I mentioned, Lincoln made clear that even under a (fairly hypothetical) scenario where the South wanted to rejoin the Union while keeping its slaves, this would not be acceptable – reunion with abolition was the minimal condition of peace.

                    1. Well I would agree that slavery was a proximate cause of the war but I don’t think the war was primarily “about” slavery and it definitely wasn’t fought “over” slavery. The South fought for their independence, economic interest, and right to self-government (taxes, and slavery, just happened to be particular manifestations of the perceived tyranny and threat). For the North, slavery had even far less to do with the war than it did for the South. And Lincoln’s motives are more pertinent since he started the seemingly avoidable war.

                      Interestingly enough, we can tie this back to the OP. OP says “Jefferson himself said many crazy things but almost always acted cautiously.” Indeed, if Lincoln had been more like Jefferson, there would have been no war at all:

                      “From 1800 to 1815, three serious attempts at secession were orchestrated by New England Federalists, who were infuriated by what they believed was unconstitutional acts by President Thomas Jefferson.

                      Among the voices for secession was Connecticut Senator James Hillhouse who declared, “The Eastern States must and will dissolve the Union and form a separate government. I will rather anticipate a new confederacy, exempt from the corrupt and corrupting influence and oppression of the aristocratic Democrats of the South.”

                      “There will be — and our children at farthest will see it — a separation. The white and black population will mark the boundary,” wrote Timothy Pickering, the prominent Senator from Massachusetts. (12)

                      It was the belief of Hillhouse, Pickering, John Quincy Adams, and others that the South was gaining too much power and influence at a cost to the New England states.

                      What was Jefferson’s response to the threat of secession? It certainly wasn’t war.

                      “Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.” (13)

                      “Events may prove it otherwise; and if they see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Missipi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.” (14)

                      From all outward accounts, Lincoln wanted a war with the South — some might say he needed it — and that’s what he got. The loss of tax revenues from the Southern ports would not go unpunished as he promised in his inaugural address.”

                    2. I would point out the centralizing tendencies of the proslavery leaders. Before the war they may have paid lip service to states’ rights, but they trampled on it in practice.

                      Criticizing the Fugitive Slave Act, Sen. Sumner of Massachusetts called it “an assumption by Congress of powers not delegated by the Constitution, and in derogation of the rights of the States.”

                      (Sumner, Defence of Massachusetts (Washington, Buell and Blanchard, 1854), 4.)

                      And the South Carolina Declaration above complains that the Northern states have obstructed or even “nullif(ied)” the federal Fugitive Slave Act. The Declaration even claimed for slaveowners the “right of transit” – i.e., taking their slaves through the free states without the slaves being emancipated by free-state law.

                    3. That is to say, the seceders were centralizers who pulled out of the Union not because of states’ rights, but because the central government wouldn’t centralize in the direction *they* wanted – a proslavery direction.

                    4. The South fought for their independence, economic interest, and right to self-government

                      A majority of those living in South Carolina in 1860 were slaves.

                      Independence? Self-government? Consent of the governed? And what was this “economic interest” you speak of? Answer: slaves.

                      What they fought for was the right to continue holding blacks as slaves.

                      From Mississippi’s resolution of secession:

                      Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.

                      (There too slaves were a majority.)

                      Many of the other resolutions and ordinances complain heavily, and primarily, about the threat to slavery from Lincoln and the refusal in many places to enforce the Fugitive Slave act.

                      To pretend it wasn’t about slavery is, as it were, to erase history.

                    5. “That is to say, the seceders were centralizers who pulled out of the Union not because of states’ rights, but because the central government wouldn’t centralize in the direction *they* wanted – a proslavery direction.”

                      Yes, but their solution was secession and separation. As I quoted above from South Carolina, “When the interests of two people united together under one Government, are different. . .” The statement says they viewed the circumstance as being the same as the colonies when they wrote, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..”

                      Slavery was a primary motivation for secession, along with unfair taxes on the South to benefit the North, and the overall economic relationship between the North and South and their disparate economic interests.

                      But secession isn’t the same thing as war. Lincoln started the war and he didn’t do it to end slavery. The North didn’t fight the war to end slavery. You want to focus only on the South, but it takes two to tango. Lincoln went to war to preserve the economic interests of the North, which had nothing to do with ending slavery, and to preserve the union, i.e. to preserve the U.S. governments profitable control and taxation of the now unwilling and unconsenting southern states. For the South’s part, they were aiming for peaceful secession, which they viewed as their natural right, and once the war began saw themselves as acting in self-defense.

                      So I find it misleading to say the Civil War was “fought over slavery,” as if ending slavery had anything to do with the reasons the North was fighting, even though slavery was perhaps the major cause that led to the war, with tariffs a secondary cause.

                    6. bernard

                      “Independence? Self-government? Consent of the governed? And what was this “economic interest” you speak of? Answer: slaves.

                      What they fought for was the right to continue holding blacks as slaves.

                      From Mississippi’s resolution of secession:”

                      As I noted above, it is quite ironic that they declared self-government as their cause while the particular institution they were protecting was treating other people as non-persons and mere property. This was a contradiction and they were of course deeply wrong for this.

                      Even so, as horrific as their motivation was, the act of secession was predicated on what was believed to be a natural right exercised previously in the Declaration of Independence. And the act of secession was not a declaration of war. Secession and war are two different things. The North/Lincoln went to war and their motives had nothing to do with ending slavery.

                    7. “You want to focus only on the South”

                      No, I mentioned the North going into it disavowing an intention to interfere with slavery in the states, but Lincoln and Congress considered themselves constrained by the course of events to drop that policy and go for full-on emancipation, which Lincoln stuck by even at the risk of re-election in 1864.

                      And the North’s prewar actions – from Personal Liberty laws to supporting the exclusion of slavery from the West (and some intellectuals’ supporting John Brown) are part of the whole picture.

                      So the fact that the North started out saying “we’re totally not getting involved in the slavery issue,” then switching to making abolition a sine qua non f peace…then I think we can say it was about slavery on the Northern side, too.

                    8. M.L.,

                      The South fought for their independence, economic interest, and right to self-government. was quoting you. I took your statement to be serious, no ironic, and see no reason to change my mind.

                      And as I pointed out, to say the fought for their “economic interest” is to ay they fought to maintain slavery.

                      The very document you quote shows that one of the major complaints was the refusal of northerners to enforce the Fugitive Slave Acts. And here is some of the SC resolution you don’t quote:

                      A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

                    9. …and during the unsuccessful compromise negotiations on the eve of the war, slavery was the subject discussed, not tariffs, etc. Compromise on slavery failed because the North and South were too far apart, then the war broke out.

                    10. And then-President-Elect Lincoln rejected the idea of a slavery compromise in these words:

                      “Stand firm. The tug has to come, & better now, than any time hereafter.”


                    11. bernard

                      “And here is some of the SC resolution you don’t quote”

                      As I already said several times, preserving slavery was the primary reason for secession. They hoped for peaceful secession, but obviously were willing to risk war to preserve slavery, and to rid themselves of parasitic taxation by the North, and more broadly to secure political independence from a very different group of states whose economic, cultural and political interests were seen as incompatible, as exemplified most prominently, but not solely, in the concrete examples of slavery and taxes. But the war? Not the same as secession. You have to look at both sides for a complete picture. People have the idea that the North fought to end slavery, and that’s incorrect.

            3. Millennial Lawyer, the mountain of crap you are peddling was, of course, orthodox “history,” taught in schools north and south—but especially south—for many decades, during the Jim Crow era. That dump truck got unloaded on me when I was growing up in Virginia and Maryland. Adherents with the beautifying impulses of connoisseurs called it, “The Lost Cause.”

              Pro-racists found The Lost Cause immensely reassuring, satisfying, and attractive—which is why it dominated my public school history curriculum. Thus I found myself—a year after Brown v. Board of Education—in a newly-integrated 3rd-grade classroom, which hosted 40+ students. About a third of them were blacks, complete strangers to the actual Montgomery County, Maryland school system, having just landed in it courtesy of a courageous school board which had gotten ahead of the curriculum. And all of us were belting out the rousing choruses of the Bonnie Blue Flag:

              We are a band of brothers and native to the soil

              Fighting for our liberty, with treasure, blood and toil

              And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far

              Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
              Hurrah! Hurrah!

              For Southern rights, hurrah!

              Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.

              As long as the Union was faithful to her trust

              Like friends and like brethren, kind we were, and just

              But now, when Northern treachery attempts our rights to mar

              We hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
              Hurrah! Hurrah! 

              For Southern rights, hurrah!

              Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.

              Even today, the memory of that humiliation, heaped on those black kids as their welcome to equality in school, turns my stomach. But you keep singing it, brother!

              Honest historians finally went to work and tore the Lost Cause to bits with good history. It is taking far longer than I ever expected, but in time Lost Causers like Millennial Lawyer will disappear likewise.

              It is dismaying still to be dealing with it. Think of it. It is becoming evident—as the World War II generation dies out—that the enduring shadow of that long-ago Civil War will soon eclipse memories of even that gigantic and more recent conflict, just as that same Civil War shadow long since eclipsed memories of the first World War. Memories of those other great wars slide into the past on the current of history. But the Civil War stays always sharply in view, as if it were grounded in mid-stream, with history’s current flowing around it. The Civil War is always yesterday. What can account for such durable darkness? Undying racial hatred accounts for it.

              1. I had it dumped on me, too.

                I particularly remember one teacher who, expressing admiration for the traitor Robert E. Lee and in an attempt to make the kind of claim M.L. is making, declared that Lee himself had in fact held no slaves.

              2. You were in 3rd grade in 1955? That’s quite a life experience.

                Anyway, I can’t disagree with your experiences or your claim that history wasn’t being taught very well, setting aside your insinuation that I’m a racist. Just from what I’ve read of original historical sources, it seems to me history is being taught poorly today as well. I’ve no doubt that the South has been ashamed of slavery and there has been downplaying of it in the retelling of history. I grew up very much in the North and have never lived in the south. What I see in general public opinion and in education is a skew in the opposite direction. Lincoln started the war and he and the North generally didn’t fight it over slavery, period. It seems a blessed, happy accident of history that the war ended slavery. Something good coming out of horrific tragedy. Aside from that, there is great historical significance in the fact that the predications of the Declaration of Independence were again asserted in 1860, albeit with an underlying motivating factor that had just begun to be recognized as ugly and shameful at that time in the progress of history, only this time those predications were unsuccessful.

    3. If the U. S. is so pragmatic, how did we end up with a civil war over slavery?

      Two reasons:

      1) Pragmatism was tried and failed. The Founding Fathers already confronted the issue at the Constitutional Convention. But since it was unsolvable, they punted. The hope in the North was that slavery would die out in a few decades. That might have happened, had it not been for the cotton gin and the Industrial Revolution, which together made Big Cotton the major economic driving force of slavery.

      2) Slavery became a moral issue. That is not something you can compromise. New Englanders nearly seceded in 1814 because of a trade embargo. But that is the kind of thing that can be finessed. You just impose tariffs, and raise or lower them.

      Slavery is not like that. If you believe, as increasing number of Northerners believed as the 19th century went on, that slavery is a moral abomination, then there is no room for compromise. Same in reverse for Southerners who believed it was an absolute economic necessity for the South.

  3. You can never have too much Franklin. But I doubt this crowd is going to be enthused after they discover his pragmatic skepticism about rights.

    By the way, one reason Franklin has not been as much in the forefront of the national memory is a surprising one. His papers were largely held in private hands until the mid-20th century, when a large portion of them ended up at Yale. It is a gigantic trove, and the process of curating them has been time-consuming, and is only now coming to a conclusion. Scholars will be serving up a great deal of new insight from the Franklin papers for decades to come.

    1. Hypothesis: Franklin used to be more popular due to his autobiography and its pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative, which the sophisticated now deride as dangerously naive.

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