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Tuesday, 28 January 2014 09:36

The "Irrepressible Conflict" and the Coming Second Civil War

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STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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On February 20, 1864 there was a First Civil War battle at a place in Florida called Olustee. It was not a major battle. It rates half a sentence in the monumental 900 page history of the First Civil War and the major events that led up to it from the beginning of the 19th century by James McPherson. The title of his book, Battle Cry of Freedom, was a slogan interestingly enough, used on both sides, obviously with different meanings: on one side it meant an end to slavery, on the other the freedom to maintain it.

The book is still widely considered to be the best single volume history of the conflict. But now, 150 years after event, that particular battle, which drew so little mention in Prof. McPherson's book, is still front and center in the minds of some and (so far only) figuratively, the battle rages on. It, in which significant numbers of African-American troops fought for the Union side, ended with a Confederate victory.

It happens that there is a three acre Florida state park at the site, which contains three memorials to the Confederate dead. The Florida chapter of an organization called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War petitioned to have a memorial to the Union dead erected on the site as well. This petition brought forth a very strong objection from the Florida branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

One of their number, ironically named John Adams, stated the reason for the opposition was that "old grudges die hard." You bet your sweet pitootie they do. Here we are, 150 years later, and those sons of Confederate veterans, including the chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, one Dennis Baxley (ironically [R]), cannot stand to have Union dead honored on the same site that their dead are, because of an "old grudge."

Although he didn't say (or least the New York Times article cited didn't quote him saying anything on the subject), the "old grudge" must have to do with the fact that after 11 Southern states seceded from the Union over one or more aspects of the slavery issue, and one of their number opened fire on a Federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., a civil war ensued, which the Secessionist forces lost. My-oh-my. 150 years later. Couldn't be that many of the issues over which the First Civil War was fought are still at issue, plus a number of new ones, now could it?

What became the First Civil War was foretold by many. Thomas Jefferson, commenting on the Missouri Compromise of 1820, characterized it as a "firebell in the night," warning of "future bloody conflict." During the Congressional elections of 1858, William H. Seward, then Senator from New York State and future Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, gave his famous speech in which he declared that the two systems of labor at that time abroad in the nation, free and slave, could not forever exist side-by-side. That there would be an "irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces" (McPherson, p. 198). In the same year, on the Southern side, the Charleston Mercury declared that on the subject of the institution of slavery "the North and South are not only two Peoples, but they are rival hostile peoples" (McPherson, p. 41) The events surrounding the battle of Olustee over the proposal to mount a memorial to Union dead there would seem to indicate that, at least in the minds of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the two sides are still rivals and still hostile.

Let me pause here for a moment to consider why I call what is usually referred to as "The Civil War," rather "The First Civil War." That is because, quite obviously I think that "The Second Civil War" is coming. The latter is a subject that I have treated on a number of occasions on BuzzFlash as well as other sites, including the old "The Political Junkies.net," a site no longer active. Further, although Mr. Adams and his colleagues might be surprised to find that I hold this view, I do not regard the South as having lost the First Civil War. In fact, I think that, except that the formal institution of slavery was abolished by Constitutional Amendment, the South won.

Of the other major War objectives of the South, the maintenance of the dogma of white supremacy, on which the whole institution of slavery was based (see the quote from Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens) has been spread to the whole nation. The continued prosecution of US imperialism, long much more a Southern than a Northern goal, has become the mainstay of US foreign policy. The power of "States' Rights," through such institutions as the thoroughly undemocratic US Senate (even without the filibuster), a major governmental branch that would have never been put into the Constitution if it had not been for the interest of the then-slave-owning states, has been maintained, the perpetual reactionary whining on the issue to the contrary notwithstanding. "Free" or "low-tariff" trade has become a mainstay of U.S. foreign/commercial policy, with the ante currently being upped by the "Trans-Pacific Partnership." Finally, the South believed much more strongly than the North in the prominence of what back then might have been the "military-industrial complex," to support both imperialism and "free trade."

It is fascinating, is it not, that all of these issues remain on the front political burner. To them we may add that folks, and there are apparently significant numbers of them, like the Mr. Adams quoted above, still hold grudges relating to the First Civil War. (Ironically, John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, was no friend of slavery, and his son, John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, was an outspoken and powerful abolitionist. This was especially true following his return to the House of Representatives in the 1830s, when his anti-slavery stance was subjected to a series of Southern-engineered "gag rules," that is the subject could not even be presented on the floor of the House for consideration. Sound familiar?)

And of course to them can be added a series of modern-day issues over which, in the end, compromise will prove to be extremely difficult, if at all possible. Such as: the role of religion and religious belief in determining the law, both civil and criminal; the true meaning of the Second Amendment to the Constitution; what exactly does the term "the right to vote" mean; is the dogma of White Supremacy to remain in control of much of national policy on a variety of issues; how is the undemocratic nature of US government, at both the State and Federal levels, to be dealt with, if at all; what is the correct role of government in determining economic and its relative, environmental, policy; how is the ever-widening gap in both wealth and income between the very wealthy and everyone else to be dealt with; how is the progressive smashing of the trade union movement over the past 40 years to be dealt with if at all,; and finally, related to many of the above issues, what is the appropriate role of the Corporate Power, today's equivalent of the Slave Power at the time of the First Civil War, in running the affairs of the nation, political, economic, and otherwise. Perhaps not everyone on the opposite sides on each of those issues would be inclined to go to war over them, but such was the case in the run-up to the First Civil War too. We shall return to this subject in future columns.

(Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas' latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.