Commentary: The truth is that the Civil War never really ended
By Frank Vyan Walton
There’s quite a bit of talk these days about the Trump administration leading us into a fresh, new, second American Revolution. Certainly, Russian television network RT thinks that it's likely.
From celebrities calling on citizens to take to the streets, to members of Congress calling for the public harassment of White House officials, to mob justice at restaurants — is the US heading toward a new kind of Civil War?
Well, some people think the seeds of a new Civil War have already been sown — and in a recent article, University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds argued in a USA Today column that this new war is indeed “well underway.”
Reynolds was echoing similar comments from political scientist Thomas Schaller who wrote in a recent Bloomberg column that America is “at the beginning of a soft civil war,” and author Tom Ricks who agreed that the country seems to be “lurching” in that direction.
Oh, it’s already upon us. And it has been raging for some time now.
The once-serious political party known as “Democrats” has been hijacked by lawless lunatics who have been sowing discontent and fomenting violence for years now.
Just ask all the families of police officers in America who have been executed over the past four or five years by militants inspired by the so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Not that we should really take these “sources” seriously, but the real truth is far deeper. That truth is that the forces and the core ideology that bred the original Civil War—that tendency to allow greed, power, and fear to overwhelm our basic human decency and empathy, that security concerns should outweigh civil freedoms, that human rights are fungible and optional for certain people—is exactly the fight that we are waging now,
Saying that the Civil War ended at Appomattox is just as mistaken as saying the Iraq War was over when George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.”
People tend to mistakenly think that the Civil War was about slavery, but it really wasn't. It was about money—the right to make as much money as you possibly could, even if they meant completely destroying the life of someone else in the process. Slavery didn't happen because of racism in this view of things, as prior to 1652 indentured servitude had been colorblind. Both white and black men had been indentured servants who were offered benefits (such as passage to the new world) in exchange for 10 or 20 years of work, after which they were offered their own freedom, their own land, and their own set of indentured servants.
Of course, anyone who is even vaguely familiar with a pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme could see how this plan could easily go awry, with many many freed former servants and not enough land to provide to them. So the system changed to one where the contract to free African servants was canceled and their children—who had previously been free upon birth—where now considered born slaves, replenishing the diminishing workforce. Servitude was no longer a temporary status for some individuals, it was now the permanent condition of an entire race.
Historically, the English only enslaved non-Christians, and not, in particular, Africans. And the status of slave (Europeans had African slaves prior to the colonization of the Americas) was not one that was life-long. A slave could become free by converting to Christianity. The first Virginia colonists did not even think of themselves as "white" or use that word to describe themselves. They saw themselves as Christians or Englishmen, or in terms of their social class. They were nobility, gentry, artisans, or servants.
Also, the indentured servants, especially once freed, began to pose a threat to the property-owning elite. The colonial establishment had placed restrictions on available lands, creating unrest among newly freed indentured servants. In 1676, working class men burned down Jamestown, making indentured servitude look even less attractive to Virginia leaders. Also, servants moved on, forcing a need for costly replacements; slaves, especially ones you could identify by skin color, could not move on and become free competitors.
In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legally recognize slavery. Other states, such as Virginia, followed. In 1662, Virginia decided all children born in the colony to a slave mother would be enslaved. Slavery was not only a life-long condition; now it could be passed, like skin color, from generation to generation
This change wasn't done out of hate for the Africans: it was done out of the financial necessity of the South, which was dependent on its agrarian economy and ultimately led to the Civil War.
It was greed, not [just] racism. Later, that greed turned to fear as the threat of potential slave uprisings grew and then racist tropes were invented after the fact to justify the inhumanity of the policy change. Racism was simply an excuse, a process and a tool to maintain a biased but lucrative economic and social policy. A political means to and end. The the initial catalyst for that policy wasn’t racial animus, racism was merely a convenience to protect the access of certain people to money, and power. Technically, not much has really changed since then.
Not long after the papers were signed ending the Civil War, former Confederate soldier Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest began to put together the fighters in his own terrorist group—the KKK—to maintain the influence and relative power of white men over all competitors and challenges, even if they retained little real power of their own.
After the war, Forrest is best known as having been a prominent figure in the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, a group composed of mostly Confederate veterans committed to violent intimidation of blacks, northerners and republicans. He was “Grand Wizard” until he ordered the dissolution of the organization in 1869.
Even though Bedford had called for the group to disband in 1869, they did not.
In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of Confederate veterans convenes to form a secret society that they christen the “Ku Klux Klan.” The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction Era-activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African American population.
Most prominent in counties where the races were relatively balanced, the KKK engaged in terrorist raids against African Americans and white Republicans at night, employing intimidation, destruction of property, assault, and murder to achieve its aims and influence upcoming elections. In a few Southern states, Republicans organized militia units to break up the Klan. In 1871, the Ku Klux Act passed Congress, authorizing President Ulysses S. Grant to use military force to suppress the KKK. The Ku Klux Act resulted in nine South Carolina counties being placed under martial law and thousands of arrests. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional, but by that time Reconstruction had ended and the KKK had faded away.
The 20th century witnessed two revivals of the KKK: one in response to immigration in the 1910s and ’20s, and another in response to the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its membership, numbering 3 million strong. The growth of the hate group was fueled by the 1915 release of the silent film Birth of a Nation, which portrayed members as heroes, coinciding with the widespread xenophobia following the devastation of World War I.
The KKK's hatred was directed not only against black people, but also against European Catholic and Jewish immigrants flocking to the U.S. after the war.
In 1925 and 1926, the Klan descended on Washington, D.C. for two massive marches.
City officials fiercely debated whether to allow a white supremacist organization known for lynchings, violence and terror to parade around the U.S. capital. The decision was ultimately made to let them march, albeit without their signature masks.
The so-called “konklave” drew upwards of 50,000 Klansmen, who marched through the city in a chilling display.
Far from simply having parades, the Klan was often engaged in terrorism and murders. It’s estimated that during the group’s 100-year reign from 1865 until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1965, they were linked to well over 4,000 deaths. That accounts just for those who were publicly lynched, not those who were murdered in various other methods from shootings to beatings.
According to the Tuskegee Institute, 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, including 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites. More than 73 percent of lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in the Southern states.
Lynchings were most frequent from 1890 to the 1920s, with a peak in 1892. Lynchings were often large mob actions, attended by hundreds or thousands of watchers, sometimes announced in advance in newspapers and in one instance with a special train. However, in the later 20th century lynchings became more secretive, and were conducted by smaller groups of people.
These attacks were not simply against African Americans, but also immigrants, the Chinese who had built our railroads, Catholics, Jews, and others. Inherently bigoted immigration laws were crafted to continue the falsely-created economic imbalance.
Supremacy comes in many forms, and frequently more than one at a time. The idea of being entitled to greater consideration, greater rights, greater options, greater freedom, greater benefits, and worth goes beyond race to national origin, education, income, ideology, philosophy, religion, social class, caste and status, medical condition, gender, orientation, age, eye color, height, hair color, or body type. Once you’ve adopted a supremacist mindset, once you’ve rationalized and justified the idea that some people are less deserving than others, it can manifest in dozens of ways. We’ve seen it with basic rights like voting being denied to women, the ability to marry being denied to people of different races or the same gender, of being a certain type of Christian, a certain type of Muslim, or a certain type of Hindu or Jew.
The real battle—the long battle—is and in all likelihood will remain to establish rules, methods, and procedures to protect the equal rights of all persons from the natural tendency of any demographic majority to exert their social supremacy on a minority faction. In a majority-rule nation, the concerns and issues of the minority can and will be overruled and diminished on a regular basis. The fight is to find ways to protect the members of minority demographic factions whenever majority faction members threaten to abuse their power.
This is a war, and it has been waged not just in the streets and dusty roads of Southern states but also in the North and the West. The war has been waged in the courthouse and from inside the sheriff’s station as the Klan, its supporters, and similarly-minded people have stacked the deck by controlling access to the vote despite the 15th Amendment, using tools such as poll taxes and literacy tests to maintain their power. It was even waged in the halls of the Supreme Court as they codified segregation laws into the Constitution with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which had been part of a spearhead of black resistance to their rights being curtailed.
Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. The case stemmed from an 1892 incident in which African-American train passenger Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for blacks. Rejecting Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between whites and blacks was not unconstitutional. As a result, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace.
As Southern blacks witnessed with horror the dawn of the Jim Crowera, members of the black community in New Orleans decided to mount a resistance.
At the heart of the case that became Plessy v. Ferguson was a law passed in Louisiana in 1890 “providing for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races.” It stipulated that all passenger railways had to provide these separate cars, which should be equal in facilities.
Homer Adolph Plessy, who agreed to be the plaintiff in the case aimed at testing the law’s constitutionality, was of mixed race; he described himself as “seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood.”
On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a ticket on a train from New Orleans bound for Covington, Louisiana, and took a vacant seat in a whites-only car. After refusing to leave the car at the conductor’s insistence, he was arrested and jailed.
Eventually, the forces opposing the Klan, largely pushed by the mostly Republican organization known as the NAACP, began to lose in the battlefield of courts with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which undid the core of Plessy. The battle moved into the legislature as the second civil rights war, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X on one side, squared off against Sheriff Bull Connor and George Wallace on the other.
Again terrorists attacked using dogs, sticks, water cannons, guns, and bombs, killing children in an Alabama church, killing the Freedom Riders, killing Medgar Evers, then ultimately slaying Dr. King himself and so many others. Some protested and fought back with nonviolence while some resorted to violence, riots, and looting. The road to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act was paved with these painful losses, and for the first time in 100 years, there were federal consequences for the actions of the Klan and their sympathizers.
As this occurred, there was a change among the parties. Dixiecrats who had split with Truman over his integration of the Army eventually followed their presidential candidate running against Truman—Strom Thurmond—into the Republican Party while Nixon continued to attract "negrophobes" with his Southern Strategy. Meanwhile, Democrats moved more in line with John and Bobby Kennedy, as well as Lyndon Johnson with his Great Society.
Yet this didn’t mean that the war was over—only that the tactics had to change to become more circumspect, more surreptitious to avoid Federal penalties. Just because you make something illegal doesn’t mean that it completely stops, or else the fact that robbery and murder are illegal would have eliminated those crimes completely already. Not surprisingly they remain, just as the Civil Rights Act has failed to completely eliminate racism and bigotry, rather than just slowing it down and forcing it into the back of the closet. Discrimination continued as we could see in the Pigford case, which continued well into the ‘90s. Racial discrimination in housing, including red-lining, maintained the segregation the Klan fought so hard for. Hiring discrimination, loan discrimination, and white flight to the suburbs and the private and charter school movement defeated attempts to create integration with school busing.
The tactics were revised and the battlefield changed from the streets to the local city council and school board, but the goals remained the same: keep power and freedom consolidated where it previously resided, in the hands of the monied, powerful, privileged, likely Protestant, and usually white—even if that money had been made largely from the generational blood, sweat, and suffering of slaves and immigrants whose rights and freedom were denied.
It’s been more than 50 years since that Second Civil [Rights] War.
The forces who oppose sharing power and sharing freedom, who resist any accounting or reconciliation for past (or for that matter current) deeds of terrorism and discrimination, continue to resist among the battlefields of power: the legislature, the courthouse, and the state house.
They wish to undo the Civil Rights Act. They have managed to undo key parts of the Voting Rights Act. They would like to undo Obamacare, gut the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, undo the Great Society, and repeal the New Deal.
They want things back to the way they used to be, when the Klan could march the streets of Washington unmasked, unafraid, and unbowed. Back to when the captains of industry had little to fear from the whims and whines of their lowly workers, be it a measly little thing like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Cuyahoga River fire, the Exxon Valdez crashing into the Alaska Bay, or the Deep Water Horizon exploding into a fireball.
They don’t care about what happens to the “workers”: they're just part of the machinery. It doesn't matter if they're a truck driver about to freeze to death in a blizzard, they have to protect the liability of the company, not save their own life. Isn’t that right, Justice Gorsuch?
“I was afraid I was going to die,” he said.
He unhitched the cab from the trailer and despite being low on fuel managed to drive it to a gas station a few miles away, then, within 15 to 30 minutes, returned to find a repairman finally on the scene. After repairs, he delivered the meat.
But TransAm Trucking fired him for abandoning his load.
In the seven years since being fired, he had struggled to get consistent, decent-paying work, especially as his records said he had abandoned a load.
“That’s regarded as a cardinal sin in trucking,” he said. When he won his case, he was given backdated pay and the right to reinstatement. But he didn’t return to a company he felt had a “hiring and firing culture” and “had put its load over my life”.
Seven years of stress and poverty – he spent the time without a home of his own, staying with friends and relatives – damaged his relationship with his only child, a daughter who was nine when he was fired, he said.
Upon vindication, he didn’t even read Neil Gorsuch’s dissent until the judge was nominated for the Supreme Court.
“Then the first thing I noticed was that in his opening reference he simply called me a trucker and didn’t use my name,” he said.
While Maddin had largely won because he was deemed justified in putting his safety above the company’s instructions, Gorsuch disagreed because the law states that it protects someone refusing to operate their truck, whereas Maddin had in effect refused not to operate it, instead insisting on driving to reach shelter.
Gorsuch didn’t even use his name. This man wasn’t even a person to him. He might as well have been property—corporate property. We may not use the word “slave” anymore, but when a truck full of meat is worth more than your life, your value is fairly low.
They go from micro-aggressions like calling the police on people sleeping in a dorm common room, to people barbecuing in the park, to kids trying to sell lemonade, or people trying to get into a parking space, to full-on threats of violence, death, and rape against journalists in the “Jew” media—or anyone who annoys them.
They are willing to let pregnant women suffer a horrible, unspeakable fate without proper medical care for themselves or their unborn, yet can easily turn a blind eye to the fate of completely and fully born children as they’re ripped out of their parents’ arms and sent thousands of miles away while their parents are rapidly deported without them to face a threat of domestic and gang violence.
Their allies in the men’s rights/incel movement, Q Anon, the alt-right, the III percenters, the Oathkeepers, Sovereign Citizens, the Christian Identity Movement, Skinheads, and the ever-persistent Klan have left a massive trail of broken limbs, blood and bodies from Oklahoma City, to Planned Parenthood, Charlottesville, Mother Emmanuel, in the streets of Las Vegas, and most recently Portland.
This is a war over power and humanity, corporate greed, and human rights. The battle rages on, in every possible venue, in large clashes and small.
It’s not a matter of if will we enter yet another Civil War. Who can say that war truly ended? Why is it that so many fly the flag of a failed traitor nation-state with pride? What are they proud of exactly? States’ rights, they say, but the states’ right to do what, exactly? To whom? Do they even know or care?
If (or more likely, when) their beloved Cheeto Jesus Trump finally crashes and burns, this ongoing Civil Culture Social Justice War will quickly go from lukewarm to hot,but the tactics they’ll use—intimidation, bluster, faux patriotism, strategic poutrage, gas-lighting, false equivalency and terrorism—will be the same tactics that the nationalist supremacy movement has been using for centuries.
We just need to be ready.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared at the Daily Kos, which has a policy stating that "(s)ite content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."