The Republican Party in Context: 1854-2016? (Part E)
We are still trying to explain the Trump phenomenon in U.S. Republican politics. We are doing that putting the American Republican party in its historical context. We are exploring the question: What ever happened to the "Party of Lincoln"?
My basic thesis animating this series of essays is that there never was a "Party of Lincoln" to begin with.
The Democratic party of the nineteenth century was the racially reactionary, pro-slavery party. The Republican party was the abolitionist party. However, I have been arguing that the Republican party's opposition to slavery had always been largely utilitarian not moral. That matters. That makes a big difference.
But freeing the slaves, is freeing the slaves; and Lincoln did that with his Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of war. Okay, I accept that and give Mr. Lincoln credit.
But those of you who have been following this series know that I also think the British should be given credit for having attempted the same thing, eighty-eight years before during the American Revolution (I previously spoke of Lord Dunemore, last colonial governor of Virginia and his "Ethiopian Regiment").
The British effort to overthrow slavery by force of arms, during the American Revolution (1776-1783), failed because the Revolution succeeded. Lincoln's effort to overthrow slavery by force of arms succeeded because the Southern Rebellion failed.
As I've said before, a major reason why the American Revolution, of the late-eighteenth-century, succeeded was because the rebels had major help from France and Spain, Britain's arch-rivals.
As I have also said before, a major reason why the Southern Rebellion, of the later-mid-nineteenth-century, failed was because the Confederacy did not have any international assistance.
Those of you who have been following this series, understand that it is my contention is that it was the Southern defeat in the Civil War of 1861-1865, that ended slavery when it did and nothing else.
Those of you who have been following this series, understand that I have rejected an argument raised by some on the Left. They argue that slavery in the United States of America had to be destroyed in order to make economic opportunities for white men. In short, I have rejected the argument based on what state legislatures were actually doing over the course of the nineteenth-century.
We're having a little capsule trouble, so I thought I'd just mention that the above is a picture of rebel leader Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The source of the photo, incidentally is biography.com.
I've been saying that a major reason, in my opinion, why the South lost the Civil War is because the Confederacy did get any international assistance. But, they might have gotten international help.
What do I mean by that cryptic remark?
Well, first I need to invoke a very important book by a historian, Sven Beckert. The book is Empire of Cotton: A Global History. The book is essential reading, in my opinion, for nothing less than coming to a comprehension of how the modern world came to take the form it has today. The task is that simple and that awesome.
Dr. Beckert's Empire of Cotton is an economic history that uses the story of the commodity of cotton to tell the story of the birth of capitalism. You see, the nature of cotton is such that once a society learned how to mass produce items made of cotton---clothing being the principal good---they found that the door was opened to being able to mass produce other things; and the constant spinoff effect ended up modernizing or industrializing the society.
In other words, cotton industrialization leads to general industrialization.
Now, the American South is associated with big time, mass-scale cotton production, and well it should be. However, this abundance did not lead to cotton industrialization and general industrialization in the region, because of the South's social commitment to slavery.
Historically, societies that had virtually unlimited disposable human labor tended not to bother very much about mechanical innovation.
Instead, the South sent the enormous quantities of the fiber it was producing, for processing to the factories of Europe. And from Europe, finished cotton textiles would be sold all over the world.
The thing is: Only the American South could produce the quantities of cotton that Europe's factories required to adequately supply world demand for the cotton textiles they produced.
Therefore, as you can imagine, the American Civil War made European manufacturers, politicians, and financiers very anxious.
- They wanted the supplies of cotton the South could produce.
But this did not mean that they approved of slavery; they generally did not approve of the institution.
- What the anxious Europeans approved of were the results of slavery, meaning the quantities of cotton it produced.
While the Europeans were on pins and needles about the situation, in the meantime they were trying furiously to produce the quantities of cotton they desire, elsewhere, under circumstances of technically free labor.
- In the beginning, as they try and fail to "crack the code," as it were, their anxiety grew.
You know, you could do worse than to compare the European disposition toward the American South to the American disposition toward Saudi Arabia.
The United States does not approve of the social system of Saudi Arabia, they way women are treated; and there are problems with the kind of Islam it exports. And so on and so forth. The point is that there is little the U.S. approves of concerning the House of Saud.
What we can say is that the United States, nevertheless, approves of the "results" of the regime, if you will, in the form of access to oil. And thus, the American-Saudi alliance which goes back to World War II and the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Anyway, it was touch 'n go for a while. Would the Confederacy get European recognition and support? How much longer would the war have to go on before the cavalry arrived?
But then the Europeans cracked the code. They figured out how to produce the quantities of cotton they needed under circumstances of technically free labor. The Europeans were free! They had become, as it were, "cotton independent"---at least as far as the American South was concerned.
Their tacit support of the American South therefore cooled considerably. No one came to the rescue of the Confederacy. The Southern Rebellion failed.
But not only that! The South now saw how morally isolated they were and it was shocking to them. Southern writers immediately went into spin-mode. The Rebellion hadn't had anything to do with slavery after all!
And shortly thereafter, "Lost Cause" revisionist history became a cottage industry. (See, Bonekemper, Edward. The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won.)
Thank you for reading!
More by this Author
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Today we're going to consider two films together, Sin City and its follow up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.