These posts reflect my original interest in American politics, history and political theory broadly cast. I’m interested in exploring the nexus between American Political Development (APD) and American Political Thought (APT) as well as American Studies and Africana Studies or all regional “studies,” including working with Gajo Petrovic a leader in Praxis published in the former Yugoslavia.
This was the reason I stayed in politics for my Ph.D. rather than leaving for law school, history, sociology or business school as faculty kept trying to convince me to do in undergraduate and graduate school after spending a gap year reading Heidegger’s Being and Time with University of Zagreb philosophy professor Gajo Petrovic, who spent time at IAS and working with the author of the former Yugoslavian Constitution, the one that stuck — written in the 1970s. The latter scholar attended the Sorbonne in the 1930s and ended his career as the Dean of the best law school in Belgrade. In the 1980s the Fulbright funded his scholarship on Jefferson at Claremont Graduate School. I worked with him for my B.A. thesis on Marx, existentialism, phenomenology and Yugoslavian self-management supervised by Claremont Men’s College’s public law professor Winston Fisk.
At minute 37:33 a ballet dancer appears in Swarthmore’s Sunday Services. Carol’s voice is low for soprano. The whole service was pulled together virtually by they music director. This is inspiring.
In these trying time, singing, as Carol, does not only strengths her lungs giving them the plasticity or strength to fight off the COVID-19. Whats more you can put a beautiful vision to the music to inspire us all.
PSC72009/Hist74900/WSC 81000-10Spring 2020*Gender, Race, and American Political Development:American Dream or American Dread?
Tuesdays 11:45 AM-1:45 PM until March 10, then remote via Slack (see announcements)
David Waldstreicher 5411.09Office Hour Tues 2:00-3:00 (remote and by appointment)
Ruth O’Brien 5200.01 Office Hour Tues. 2:00-3:00 (remote, and by appointment)
Course Overview:This course examines to what extent, in what ways, are exceptionalist understandings of U.S. political traditions a problem or a solution? Do accounts that stress race, or gender, or the confluence of the two, provide a necessary or sufficient theory or counter-narrative of political development? Do frameworks developed in European politics, in critical theory, in postcolonial thought, or in domestic vernaculars comprehend the roles of race and gender, or their relationship to each other, in the political past and political time now? What kinds of analytical scholarship and storytelling have been adequate to the task? Finally, given the recent resurgence of angry and martial rhetoric at the center of national politics, how might we understand the relationship between the revolutionary or Enlightenment dreams of justice, peace, freedom and progress, on the one hand, and the recurrent dread or nightmare of decline and oppression, as shaping facts of specifically political traditions?
•Weekly brief (1-2 pp.) reflections on the readings.
•A term paper of 12-15 pages, due May 8, that may take one of the following forms:
•A historiography or “literature review” that takes as its subject one of the week’s readings and incorporates the recommend readings and possibly others as well.
•A research paper according to the expectations of one’s discipline or the course one is registered for (political science, history, women’s studies etc.)
•A proposal for a more substantial research project. Consult with one of the instructors about expectations according to disciplinary specificities.
A 2-3 page PROPOSAL for term final paper is due on March 31.
Schedule and Readings
1 Jan. 28 Introduction: a discipline counts: histories (social, intellectual, political, economic, material, cultural); APD meets APT; theories of living and dead thinkers, significant social theory.
2 Feb. 4Defining Interdisciplinary and Intersectional Concepts: Definition of APD methods (historical institutionalism, regimes, epistemic communities);APD meets APT; APT themes, including settler political theory, West/Imperialism, Migration/Immigration
Reading: Stephen Skowronek & Karen Orren, The Search for American Political Development (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004) chps. 1-2; Rogers M. Smith, “Ideas and the Spirals of Politics: The Place of American Political Thought in American Political Development,” American Political Thought 3 (Spring 2014), pp. 126-136; Jeffrey Checkel, Jeffrey Friedman, Matthias Matthijs, and Rogers Smith, “Roundtable on Ideational Turns in the Four Sub-Disciplines of Political Science,” Critical Review, Vol. 28, Issue 2, (2016), 171-202 [Read Rogers Smith only]; Brian J. Glenn, “Louis Hartz’s Liberal Tradition in America as Method.” Studies in American Political Development 19, no. 2 (2005): 234–39.
Recommended: Rogers M. Smith, “Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in America,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Sep., 1993): 549-566; Giacomo Gambino “‘Our End Was in Our Beginning’: Judith Shklar and the American Founding,” American Political Thought 8 (Mar 2019): 202-30; Ruth Abbey, “The Political Thought of America’s Founding Feminists, by Lisa Pace Vetter,” American Political Thought 7 (Sep 2018): 671-73; Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (New York: Nation Books, 2016): Chapters 1-4, pp. 1-57; Paul Pierson, “The Study of Policy Development,” Journal of Policy History 17 No. 1(2005): 34-51; Robert Lieberman, “Ideas, Institutions, and Political Order: Explaining Political Change,” American Political Science Review 96, No. 4 (2002): 697-712; Rogan Kersh, “Rethinking Periodization? APD and the Macro-History of the United States,” Polity 37: 4 (Oct. 2005), pp. 513-522; Aili Mari Tripp, “Historical Perspectives in Comparative Politics and Gender Studies.” Politics & Gender 3, no. 3 (2007): 397–408.
3. Feb. 11 Settler Political Thought: Land, Dispossession, Revolution, and Empire
Reading: Aziz Rana, “Introduction: Liberty and Empire in the American Experience” The Two Faces of American Freedom (Harvard UP, 2010), 1-19; Jack P. Greene, “The Symbiotic Relationship between Liberty and Inequality in the Cultural Construction of Colonial British America and the United States: An Overview,” American Political Thought 5 (Fall 2016), 549-66; Craig Yirush, “The Idea of Rights in the Imperial Crisis,” Social Philosophy & Policy 29 (Jul 2012): 82-103; Carole Shammas, “Anglo-American Household Government in Comparative Perspective,” William and Mary Quarterly 52 (Jan. 1995), 104-45.
Recommended: Aziz Rana, “Settler Revolt and the Foundations of American Freedom,” The Two Faces of American Freedom, ch. 1, pp. 20-98; Nancy Isenberg,” Taking Out the Trash: Waste People in the New World” and “John Locke’s Lubberland: The Settlements of Carolina and Georgia” ch. 1& 2 of White Trash: The Four-Hundred-Year History of Class in America (Viking, 2016), 18-63; David Waldstreicher, Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery and the American Revolution (2004); Peter S. Onuf, “American Exceptionalism and National Identity,” American Political Thought 1:1 (Spring 2012), 77-99
4Feb. 18 Constituting the Republic
Reading: David Waldstreicher, “The Mansfieldian Moment: Slavery, the Constitution, and American Political Traditions,” Rutgers Law Journal 43 (2013), 471-86; Jan Ellen Lewis, “What Happened to the Three Fifths Clause: The Relationship Between Women and Slaves in Constitutional Thought, 1787-1866,” Journal of the Early Republic 37 (Spring 2017), 1-46; Joshua Simon, “Alexander Hamilton in Hemispheric Perspective,” The Ideology of Creole Revolution: Imperialism and Independence in American and Latin American Political Thought (Cambridge UP, 2017), 48-88; Gregory Ablavsky, “The Savage Constitution,” Duke Law Journal 63 (June 2014), 999-1089
Recommended:Sanford V. Levinson, “On the Inevitability of ‘Constitutional Design,’” 48 Arizona State Law Journal 249 (2016); Elvin T. Lim, “Political Thought, Political Development, and America’s Two Foundings,” American Political Thought 3 (2014),146-56; David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (2009); Max Edling, “Peace Pact and Nation: An International Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” Past and Present 240 (Aug. 2018), 267-303; David Brian Robertson, The Original Compromise (Oxford U. Press, 2013).
5. Feb. 25 Settlers: Labor(ing)
Reading:Christopher Tomlins, “Law, Population, Labor” in Tomlins and Grossberg eds., The Cambridge History of Law in America (Cambridge UP, 2008), 211-52; David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991), chapters 3-4, pp. 43-92; Nancy Isenberg, “Pedigree and Poor White Trash: Bad Blood, Half-Breeds, and Clay-Eaters” and “Cowards, Poltroons, and Mudsills: Civil War as Class Warfare” chapters 6 and 7 of White Trash: The Four-Hundred-Year History of Class in America (Viking, 2016), pp. 135-73; Gunther Peck, “Labor Abolitionism and the Politics of White Victimhood: Rethinking the History of Working-Class Racism,” Journal of the Early Republic 39 (Spring 2019), 89-98; Gordon, Jane Anna, and Keisha Lindsay. “Black on Red: Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth-Century New World Black Interpretative Uses of Native American Political Experience.” The Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 4, no. 2 (2019): 324–51.
Recommended: Barbara Fields, “Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States” (1990/2011) in New Left Review (1990) or in Barbara Fields and Karen Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life; David F. Ericson, “The United States Military, State Development, and Slavery in the Early Republic.” Studies in American Political Development 31, no. 1 (2017): 130–48; Dana Frank, “White Working-Class Women and the Race Question.” International Labor and Working-Class History 54 (1998): 80–102; Catherine Carstairs, “Defining Whiteness: Race, Class, and Gender Perspectives in North American History.” International Labor and Working-Class History 60 (2001): 203–6.
6. March 3 Democracy in Theory and Practice
Reading:Reeve Huston, “Rethinking the Origins of Partisan Democracy in the United States, 1795-1840” in Daniel Peart and Adam I. P. Smith eds., Practicing Democracy: Popular Politics in the United States from the Constitution to the Civil War (2016), 46-71; Andrew W. Robertson, “Jeffersonian Parties, Politics and Participation: The Tortuous Trajectory of American Democracy” in Peart and Smith eds., Practicing Democracy, 99-122; Honor Sachs, Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (Yale UP, 2015), Introduction and ch. 5 (pp. 1-12, 120-43); Laura Edwards, “The Legal World of Elizabeth Bagby’s Commonplace Book: Federalism, Women, and Governance,” Journal of the Civil War Era 9 (Dec. 2019), 504-23; John L. Brooke, “Patriarchal Magistrates, Associated Improvers, and Monitoring Militias: Visions of Self-Government in the Early American Republic, 1760-1840” in Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf eds., State and Citizen: British America and the Early United States (UP of Virginia, 2013), 178-217
Recommended:David Waldstreicher, “The Nationalization and Racialization of American Politics: Before, Between, and Beneath Parties, 1790-1840” in Anthony J. Badger and Byron E. Shafer eds., Contesting Democracy: Structure and Substance in American Political History, 1775-2000 (University Press of Kansas, 2001), 37-63; Aziz Rana, “Citizens and Subjects in Postcolonial America,” The Two Faces of American Freedom, ch. 2, 99-175; Adam Dahl, Empire of the People: Settler Colonialism and the Foundations of Modern Democratic Thought (2017); Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., “Tocqueville as Critical Race Theorist: Whiteness as Property, Interest Convergence, and the Limits of Jacksonian Democracy” Political Research Quarterly 62, No. 4 (Dec., 2009); Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (2009)
7. March 10 Settlers: Migrating and Warring
Reading:Jason M. Opal, “General Jackson’s Passports: Natural Rights and Sovereign Citizens in the Political Thought of Andrew Jackson, 1780s-1820s,” Studies in American Political Development 27 (2013): 69-85; Laurel Clark Shire, “Turning Sufferers into Settlers: Gender, Welfare, and National Expansion in Frontier Florida,” Journal of the Early Republic 33 (2013); Anna O. Law, “Lunatics, Idiots, Paupers, and Negro Seamen—Immigration Federalism and the Early American State.” Studies in American Political Development 28, no. 2 (2014): 107–28; Paul Frymer, “‘A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours’: Territorial Expansion, Land Policy, and U.S. State Formation,” Perspectives on Politics 12: 1 (March 2014), pp. 119-144
Recommended: Michael Paul Rogin, “Liberal Society and the Indian Question,” Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (1975), 3-15; Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (2011), especially ch. 1 and 5; Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2010); Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).
———————- Remote Instruction begins via Slack
8. March 17 Racial Orders, Mobility, and (Second) Civil War/Revolution/Reconstruction
Reading:Van Gosse, “Racial Orders in the United States, 1790-1860,” Journal of the Early Republic, forthcoming Spring 2020; Gautham Rao, “The Federal Posse Comitatus Doctrine: Slavery, Compulsion, and Statecraft in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America,” Law and History Review 26 (Spring, 2008), pp. 1-56; Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War (2016), Introduction and ch. 2 “Becoming Mobile in an Age of Segregation,” pp. 1-9, 44-75; Amy Dru Stanley, “The Sovereign Market and Sex Difference: Human Rights in America” in Sven Beckert and Christine Desan, American Capitalism: New Histories (Columbia UP, 2018), 140-69.
Recommended: Gautham Rao, “The State the Slaveholders Made: Regulating Fugitive Slaves in the Early Republic” in T. Freyer and L. Campbell eds., Freedom’s Conditions in the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands in the Age of Emancipation (Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2011), 88-108; Kate Masur, “State Sovereignty and Migration Before Reconstruction,” Journal of the Civil War Era 9 (Dec. 2019); Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (1998); Carole Shammas, “The Household’s Civil War in an Era of Domestic Bliss,” A History of Household Government in America (UP of Virginia, 2001), ch. 5, pp. 108-44;l Woody Holton, “Equality as Unintended Consequence: The Contracts Clause and the Married Women’s Property Acts,” Journal of Southern History (May 2015), pp.313-340; Laura Edwards, “Reconstruction and the History of Governance” in Gregory Downs and Kate Masur eds., The World the Civil War Made (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 22-45; Aziz Rana, “Freedom Struggles and the Limits of Constitutional Continuity” 71 Md. L. Rev. 1015 (2012); William A. Blair, “Vagabond Voters and Racial Suffrage in the Jacksonian Era,” Journal of the Civil War Era 9 (2019), 569-87.
9. March 24 Manifest Domesticity & Imperialism
Reading:Amy Kaplan, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture (Harvard University Press, 2005),Intro and ch. 1; Desmond S. King, and Rogers M. Smith, “Racial Orders in American Political Development,” American Political Science Review 99, no. 1 (2005): 75–92; Carol Nackenoff, “The Private Roots of American Political Development: The Immigrants’ Protective League’s ‘Friendly and Sympathetic Touch,’ 1908–1924.” Studies in American Political Development 28, no. 2 (2014): 129–60; Eileen McDonagh, The Motherless State, Women’s Political Leadership and American Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2009), Chp. 6; Mark W. Van Weinen, “W. E. B. Du Bois, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and “A Suggestion on ‘The Negro Problem,’” American Literary Realism 48 No. 1 (2015): 25-39.
Recommended:Gretchen Ritter, “Gender and Politics over Time.” Politics & Gender 3, no. 3 (2007): 386–97; Amy Kaplan, “Manifest Domesticity,” American Literature 70, no. 3 (1998): 581-606; Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease Cultures of United States Imperialism (Duke University Press, 1993) excerpts
10. March 31 Regressive Progressives
Reading:Alexander Sanger “Eugenics, Race, and Margaret Sanger Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?,” Hypatia 22 (2007): 210-17; Priscilla Yamin, “The Search for Martial Order: Civic Membership and the Politics of Marriage in the Progressive Era,” Polity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 2009), 86-112; Julie Novkov, “Bringing the States Back In: Understanding Legal Subordination and Identity through Political Development,” Polity, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan., 2008), pp. 24-48; Yvonne Pitts, “Disability, Scientific Authority, and Women’s Political Participation at the Turn of the Twentieth-Century United States,” Journal of Women’s History, 24 (2012): 37-61; Adolph Reed, “DuBois’s ‘Double Consciousness’: Race and Gender in Progressive Era American Thought.” Studies in American Political Development 6, no. 1 (1992): 93–139; 93–139.
Recommended: Dana Seitler, “Unnatural Selection: Mothers, Eugenic Feminism, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Regeneration Narratives,” American Quarterly 55 (2003): 61-88; Thomas C. Leonard, “More Merciful and Not Less Effective”: Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era,” History of Political Economy, 35 (2003): 687-712; Randall Hansen and Desmond S. King, “Eugenic Ideas, Political Interests, and Policy Variance: Immigration and Sterilization Policy in Britain and the U.S.” World Politics 53 (2001): 237-63; Bruce Baum, The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity (New York University Press, 2006); Anna Stubblefield, Ethics Along the Color Line (Cornell University Press, 2005).
11. April 7New Deal Emoting or New Deal Buy Body Building
Reading:Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (New York: Liveright, 2014),. Intro & ch 1; Ruth O’Brien, Workers’ Paradox: The Republican Origins of the New Deal, Ch 1; Lisa McGirr, The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (Norton, 2016), excerpt; Theda Skocpol and Kenneth Finegold, “State Capacity and Economic Intervention in the Early New Deal,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 97, No. 2 (Summer, 1982), pp. 255-278; Jessica Wang, “Imagining the Administrative State: Legal Pragmatism, Securities Regulation, and New Deal Liberalism.” Journal of Policy History 17, no. 3 (2005): 257–93.
RecommendedCathy J. Cohen & David R Mayhew in “A Discussion of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, By Ira Katznelson,” Perspectives on Politics 12, no. 3 (2014): 708–13; Margaret Weir,“States, Race, and the Decline of New Deal Liberalism,” Studies in American Political Development 19, no. 2 (2005): 157–72.
12. April 21 Intertwining, embedding the CRA and the creation of the EEOCt
Readings: Ira Katznelson, “When Is Affirmative Action Fair? On Grievous Harms and Public Remedies,” Social Research, Vol. 73, No. 2, (Summer 2006), pp. 541-568; Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development 1960-1972 (Oxford University Press, 1990), Chp. 5 or pp. 125-152; Sarah Staszak, “Institutions, Rulemaking, and the Politics of Judicial Retrenchment,” Studies in American Political Development 24, no. 2 (2010): 168–89; David A. Hollinger, “The Disciplines and the Identity Debates, 1970-1995.” Daedalus 126, no. 1 (1997): 333-51; David A. Bateman, Ira Katznelson, and John Lapinski. “Southern Politics Revisited: On V. O. Key’s ‘South in the House,’” Studies in American Political Development 29, no. 2 (2015): 154–84.; Gloria Anzaldua, “This Bridge Called My Back” in This Bridge Called My Back: The Gloria Anzaldua Reader (Duke University Press, 2009), excerpt; Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street, Back Women, Rape and Resistance, a New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, prologue or pp. xv-xxii.
13. April 28 Righting the Right under the Civil Rights Many Movement
Reading:Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton University Press, revised ed. 2015), selections; Michael J. Graetz and Linda Greenhouse, The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Lewis Powell memorandum excerpt; Kundai Chirindo, “Paradigmatic and Syntagmatic Approaches to the Obama Presidency,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 19 No. 3 (2016): 491-504; Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party and the Battle for American History (Princeton University Press, 2010), Prologue; Stephen M. Engel, “Developmental Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Politics: Fragmented Citizenship in a Fragmented State,” Perspectives on Politics 13, no. 2 (2015): 287–311.
RecommendedThomas B. Edsall, Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power (New York: Basic Books, 2006); Ruth O’Brien, Out of Many, One: Obama and the Third Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), Chp. 3 and Epilogue; Andrew Marantz, Anti-Social, Online Extremists, Techno-Utopias and the Hijacking of the American Conversation (2019), (Identity Evropa) Chps. 12 and 27; Mark, Neven “Nixon Loyalists, Barry Goldwater, and Republican Support for President Nixon during Watergate.” Journal of Policy History 29, no. 3 (2017): 403–30.
14. May 5 Trump: A Departure?Reading: Students brainstorm readings
Ruth began our blogging dialogue (blogalogue?) with a Ruthian swing for the provocative fences: “American Political Development is history at its worst. At least, that’s what some historians who reside in the United States and teach in American history might say about our field — it’s “’presentist.’”
Time for me to reciprocate. Sometimes history is political analysis at its worst: not presentist but past-ist. As in, every historical moment is unique, and all comparisons are ideological if not teleological. In some historians’ hands, the result of past-ism is to both kneecap political arguments they don’t like and preserve history for those who know “the facts.” Facts which, on scrutiny, turn out to be made significant by interpretation.
I have objected to this tendency recently in an essay in The Boston Review about the 1619 Project controversy. One of the historians with whom I take issue, Sean Wilentz, has been doing the same thing with respect to Trump: insisting that Trump is de novo, has no historical parallels, and certainly not Sean’s main man, Andrew Jackson. This has the added benefit of shifting any blame away from Wilentz’s own political favorites, the Clintons. In other words, sometimes the insistence on historical incomparability is itself a political gambit.
But today I’d like to illustrate the important (and really, unavoidable) use of historical comparisons to illuminate and argue about the present by pointing to a 500 word op-ed, “Think the US is more polarized than ever? You don’t know history,” published on Feb. 14 by the Civil War historian Gary Gallagher on The Conversation, and republished by the History News Network today: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/174331 [many annoying links within his article stripped out below]. Here’s Gallagher:
” It has become common to say that the United States in 2020 is more divided politically and culturally than at any other point in our national past. As a historian who has written and taught about the Civil War era for several decades, I know that current divisions pale in comparison to those of the mid-19th century.
Between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox in April 1865, the nation literally broke apart. More than 3 million men took up arms, and hundreds of thousands of black and white civilians in the Confederacy became refugees. Four million enslaved African Americans were freed from bondage. After the war ended, the country soon entered a decade of virulent, and often violent, disagreement about how best to order a biracial society in the absence of slavery.
To compare anything that has transpired in the past few years to this cataclysmic upheaval represents a spectacular lack of understanding about American history. A few examples illustrate the profound difference between divisions during the Civil War era and those of the recent past.
Today, prominent actors often use awards ceremonies as a platform to express unhappiness with current political leaders. On April 14, 1865, a member of the most celebrated family of actors in the United States expressed his unhappiness with Abraham Lincoln by shooting him in the back of the head.
Today, Americans regularly hear and watch members of Congress direct rhetorical barbs at one another during congressional hearings and in other venues. On May 22, 1856, U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina caned Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts into bloody insensibility on the floor of the Senate chamber because Sumner had criticized one of Brooks’ kinsmen for embracing “the harlot, Slavery” as his “mistress.”
Recent elections have provoked posturing about how Texas or California might break away from the rest of the nation. But after a Republican president was elected in 1860, seven slaveholding states seceded between Dec. 20 and Feb. 1, 1861. Four of the remaining eight slaveholding states followed suit between April and June 1861. Americans were thus forced to face the reality that the political system established by the founding generation had failed to manage internal fractures and positioned the United States and the newly established Confederacy to engage in open warfare.
The scale and fury of the ensuing combat underscores the utter inappropriateness of claims that the United States is more divided now than ever before. Four years of civil war produced at least 620,000 military deaths – the equivalent of approximately 6.5 million dead in the United States of 2020.
The institution of slavery – and especially its potential spread from the South and border states into federal territories – was the key to this slaughter because it provoked the series of crises that eventually proved intractable. No political issue in 2020 approaches slavery in the mid-19th century in terms of potential divisiveness.”
Like the military historian he prides himself in being, Gallagher focuses on the horrifying, fratricidal violence of the Civil War, and rightly extends that back a few years to the caning of Sumner. He admits that the cause was slavery, the divide sectional. Surely we have nothing so violent, and no divisions so irrepressible, now. So comparisons of culture wars and party battles to real wars are irresponsible.
Gallager’s political motives seem benign enough. We could do with fewer pronouncements of doom and even fewer denunciations of each other. But what if it is Gallagher who is comparing apples and oranges – in his opening gambit, comparing a declared war to the cultural and political polarization, and violence, that led to a breakdown of the political system, secession, and armed conflict? Why does he want to isolate the Civil War and its violence from the violence of slavery itself and violent resistance to it – the border wars and anti-abolitionist mobs that became so controversial? I’m glad that Gallagher is (finally; he used to downplay it) centering slavery in his understanding of the nature as well as the causes of the Civil War. But by declaring historical analogies off limits, he makes it impossible for us to see and discuss long-term developments, continuities – and precisely the ones that the recent 1619 Project of the New York Times Magazine has highlighted. I won’t even go into how the entire Civil War generation, on every side, fought their political battles with reference to the American Revolution.
Note that the excruciatingly violent counterexamples Gallagher highlights are reactions against abolition: Rep. Brooks’ caning of Sen. Sumner and proslavery actor John Wilkes Booth’s murder of President Lincoln. If today’s polarization has anything to do with structural racism, if today’s battles are being fought in particular ways because, as David Brion Davis argued in 2001 [www.stratalum.org/nytimes82601.htm] “the Confederacy’s ideological victory following the Civil War,” then it might not be such a bad idea to analyze today’s politics in light of the central event of U.S. history. How much progress has been made – will be made? How free are the free? These were the questions of the 1850s, the 1890s, and remain the questions for 2020.
As the historian in this manalyzing duo, of course I feel less responsible for the limits of the field of American Political Development, more excited about how it might help compensate for some of the foibles of historians….
Yes, the lesson of Trump is that it’s corruption all the way down, corruption as a multigenerational (American Political) tradition, yet on a spiral that makes it somewhat different each time. The grandfather was all about railroad towns and hotels (brothels), and land, exploiting his fellow immigrants. The father about urban segregation and (un)creative destruction. The grandson about the simulacrum of luxury, leveraged gloss, and televised publicity as ponzi scheme. Party politics had to be the endgame because it undergirded the possibilities of profiting from infrastructure all along.
Alas, as the trigenerational story suggests, the other continuity in the Trumpian spiral appears to be the reliance on whiteness, which is why Trump so repeatedly doubles down on it, why he seized as no one else on the notion that Obama could not have possibly been born in this country. The surprise at the daily untruth or tweet covers over the primal lie of his politics, and the willingness of 40+% of voters to accept it so as not to have to accede to the other party’s kinder gentler corruption. After all, the system constantly tells us, in a democracy, origins and history don’t matter. The question is always, which of two sides are we on?
It’s funny today to hear both the president and allies trumpeting party loyalty against (Bain capitalist) Romney, when Trump ran against party and the establishment. Only a long-term approach to American politics can capture how he has recapitulated the Jacksonian art of turning from antipartisan outsider to enforcer of more party loyalty than ever, in just a few years. Partisanship relies on, feeds on, putative outsiders, sometimes in order to contain the real insurgencies. Part of Trump’s appeal is to perform and capitalize on American ambivalence about the problems that result from the normal workings of the system. It is tempting to conclude, for the moment, that he fits all too well into institutional patterns even as he shatters norms. We’ll see — and we’ll study…..