24 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 5)

INTERLUDE: 1865 to 1975

At the end of the Civil War, the North was prosperous while the South was demolished. Lincoln’s assassination and the assumption of the presidency by the hapless Andrew Johnson foreclosed any hope of a peaceful restoration of the South into the Union.

The Radical Republicans took control of the Congress and, ignoring any attempt on the part of the President to carry out the promise of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, imposed a harsh peace on the South. To thwart any attempt by the President to implement a more lenient reconstruction, Congress sought to reduce the power of the Chief Executive. Johnson balked, and for the first time, an American President was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although the Senate failed to convict (by one vote), the power of the presidency was diminished until Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. It would be a hard thirty years for the former Confederacy.

As the American frontier closed in the 1890s, the United States began to look outward. When War with Spain broke out in 1898, the Nation was dragged, kicking and screaming into a new world of modern colonialism. Europe, mainly England and Spain, but also the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and France were established colonial powers. The Indian sub-continent and large parts of Africa were under the British umbrella. Parts of Africa, many of the Pacific islands, and many Caribbean islands were Spanish colonies. France, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal maintained colonies in Africa. The Netherlands, France and Britain had colonies in southeast Asia, and all of the European powers had divided China into spheres of military and economic influence.

After opening Japan to western commerce, America had again lapsed into isolationism, concerned only with Mexico and to a lesser extent, Cuba. She was late in coming to the party.

The Spanish-American War changed the United States, albeit slowly. At the conclusion of the short war, the United States acquired new lands, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. At this point, manifest destiny was reborn as a belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world.

It was best described in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine Insurrection and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. The “open door” policy in China followed, demanding for the United States the same rights as the colonial powers in their respective spheres of influence.

The Theodore Roosevelt administration backed, and probably engineered, an insurrection in the Colombian province of Panama and then promptly recognized the Republic of Panana. Soon, construction of an American canal across the Isthmus of Panama was underway.

When the United States finally entered WWI in 1917, Britain, France and Germany were already bled white from three years of fighting Napoleonic tactics against 20th Century weaponry. To his credit, Wilson resisted British and French demands that American troops be provided as replacements for their depleted ranks. Instead, Pershing was given full authority to deny such requests and to fight the American Expeditionary Force as a separate command.

At the end of the War, however, isolationist forces once again seized control and refused to ratify the League of Nations. Wilson suffered a stroke from which he never really recovered.

The Great Depression followed, and the election of 1932 installed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House for the next 12 years. After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hitler’s inexplicable declaration of war on the United States four days later, the Nation was hurtled into two wars for which it was woefully unprepared. On the other hand, the demand for war materiel finally ended the Great Depression.

Democratic Party rhetoric to the contrary, the “New Deal,” with its expansion of the federal bureaucracy and domestic social programs, did not end the Great Depression. While recovery began early in 1933, the American gross national product did not return to the 1929 level until the very late 1930s. The unemployment rate in 1940 was still 15%.

By 1936, there was some improvement in the economy. At that time, Roosevelt had signaled that the government would stimulate the economy by increasing the money supply or by reducing taxes, which also portended a rise in nominal interest rates. The positive expectations of such anticipated actions were dashed when Roosevelt abandoned that tack, and the economy once again went into recession, when those policies were rescinded. Additionally, increased federal control over banks in the Banking Act of 1935, which raised reserve requirements, and a corresponding reduction in the money supply, helped to thwart the recovery. In fact, the nation actually slipped into another recession in 1937.

With the end of WWII, the first (and still only) use of atomic weapons in combat, the establishment of the United Nations, and the commencement of 45 years of “cold war,” the United States finally took on, in full, the role of international leadership. American foreign policy sought to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, looking to the vision of Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Reagan. Despite setbacks in Korea and Vietnam, the latter caused largely by a lack of political will on the part of the liberal establishment and an overabundance of partisan warfare in Congress, this new form of manifest destiny continued to have an influence on American political ideology until the Obama presidency.

Domestically, the United States came out of WWII as the strongest economy on earth. Saved from the physical damage of war, its manufacturing base easily transformed back into a commercial footing. The GI Bill, adopted in 1944, allowed men who only five years earlier could never have aspired to higher education, to get college educations. Guaranteed home loans allowed them to immediately purchase homes and provided employment in the construction trades for hundreds of thousands of recently discharged veterans. Road building hit a new boom that was reminiscent of road, canal and railroad building in the early 19th Century. Roads allowed establishment of suburbs. Gone were the neighborhood market, drug store, and church to which one could easily walk. Instead, the family automobile became a necessity—and Detroit flourished.

National confidence rose as President Kennedy pledged to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the seventh decade of the 20th Century. The landing on the Moon on 20 July 1969 accomplished that goal.

But there was a growing undercurrent that also changed the Nation. The social state created by FDR's administration expanded. The descendants of the slaves freed by the Civil War began to demand the rights granted them by the 13th through 15th amendments, and earned by many of them on the battlefields of WWI, WWII, and Korea. Nominally free citizens, black Americans were actively denied the rights of citizenship in the South---and passively denied those same rights in the North.

While Northern liberals--the direct descendants of the New England abolitionists of the 1850s--talked of civil rights for all Americans, they were slow to support those rights. During the riots of the mid-60s, my Aunt, a native Nebraskan and transplanted Georgian, explained it thusly to my Mother: "In the South, we dislike the negro race, but find that we like individual negroes. "In the North, you like the negro race, but don't want to have anything to do with individual negroes."

The retributive post-Civil War policies of the radical Republicans, ensured that relations between blacks and whites would fester for decades. The Radical Republican agenda, on a smaller scale, foreshadowed the retribution of the European Allies on Germany after WWI. Just as the rise of Hitler can be attributed to British and French policies after WWI, so the violence of the American civil rights movement can be placed on the victorious North every bit as much as on the defeated South.

The assassination of Lincoln led to the harsh peace of 1865 and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy led to the violence of 1965-1968.

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