Thomas Jefferson would have hated the Tea Party.

March 7, 2013

450px-TJ_Memorial_StatueIf the Tea Party section of the Republican Party wish to cling onto ‘small government’ advocates from the Founding days of the Republic, then perhaps Virginian Congressman and later, Minister to Russia, John Randolph of Roanoke would be a better candidate for their hero worship. Randolph lead the House of Representative fight against Jefferson, despite being of the same Party; later leaving the Democratic-Republican base that he shared with Jefferson, because he perceived Jefferson’s Presidency as overstepping Constitutional power several times over.

Randolph saw Jefferson’s Presidential first term as vastly exceeding Constitutional power, especially when it came to purchasing the Louisiana territory. Randolph, again, notes his disapproval, when Jefferson attempted to buy Florida from Napoleon. In fact, practically everything President Jefferson did, was opposed by the extreme small government, States-Rights advocate, John Randolph. With regard the Presidency of John Quincy Adams, Randolph refers to him as a traitor, and insists – like the drama queens of the Tea Party movement’s references to President Obama today – that the Government had been overtaken and he wished to ‘take it back’. Any form of economic equality, he opposed. It is Randolph that the Tea Party Republicans of today should call their own. But if you’re in Florida, or the Louisiana territory…. your very existence as an American citizen, was opposed by those small government advocates. Thomas Jefferson can most certainly not be held up as a hero of the Tea Party.

It is apparently without parody nor any sort of critical thought process, that often we hear the Tea Party sect of the Republicans refer to their party as “The Party of Jefferson!”. Tea Party fanatics hold up placards demanding a return to the principles of long lost ‘Republican Party’ icons. They insist that government has become too tyrannical! Alex Jones insisted on Jefferson’s libertarian credentials a couple of times. These are big claims. Most notably, they don’t appear to appeal to Jefferson’s thoughts nor actions, except in a very limited sense of what the man said and achieved.

The simplistic tendency to hold Jefferson up as a model of small government. The rewriting of history to attempt to appeal to a modern narrative – as when those still insistent on flying the Confederate flag tell us it’s a flag that represents State’s Rights – should be taken for the pitifully weak interpretation that it is. The dogmatism of free market liberalism, and anti-government interference in any way, is a relatively new phenomena.

Thomas Jefferson can very thinly be linked to the 21st Century Tea Party Republican Party ideals, if we play loose with history and just claim a common link between the Third President, and the Tea Party in regard ‘small government’. Or we could accept that the Republican Party’s Tea Party incarnation as it exists today is not in any way to be reconciled with any incarnation of the Republican Party of the 18th Century; that the Tea Party would most certainly reject Jefferson if he were alive today, and that whisking Jefferson away from the context of his time, and understanding of America, achieves nothing.

The opening line of the Republican Party’s website states:

“We believe in the power and opportunity of America’s free-market economy.”

– We should then measure Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on Capitalism alongside this unwavering dogmatic commitment of the 21st Century Republicans to free market Capitalism.

We know that Jefferson romantically wished for a Republic based primarily on agriculture. He was a product of 18th Century Virginia. A Southern Plantation owner, who mistrusted commerce and industry in the North. He worried that the growth of industry would eventually take over; an industrial Capitalist class would emerge, and people would be reliant on low wages, unable to pursue other means of self fulfilment which would inevitably be the intrigue of a wealthy few; a new Aristocracy. According to Clay Jenkinson, in his book, “Becoming Jefferson’s People” Jefferson supported:

“a graduated income tax that would serve as a disincentive to vast accumulations of wealth and would make funds available for some sort of benign redistribution downward.”

– Jefferson’s worry about an agrarian American being over taken by wage labour within an industrialised and commercial context goes further. He worried that commerce would lead to an economy based on want (which, is what we have):


“And with the laborers of England generally, does not the moral coercion of want subject their will as despotically to that of their employer, as the physical constraint does the soldier, the seaman, or the slave?”

In the wake of moneyed interests beginning to take hold in the new Nation at the beginning of the 19th Century, Jefferson seems just as skeptical of their power to engage politically, as he does of Monarchical power:

“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

I wonder then, if Jefferson would ever have identified himself with an apparent ‘grass roots’ political movement funded largely by the Koch empire and perpetuated by the Murdoch News Empire. How would he have reacted, to a right winged Judiciary, who, in 2010 declared that it was unconstitutional to limit the amount a Corporate entity can spend endorsing a candidate for office, claiming that to limit it, would be to undermine the Corporations 1st Amendment right to free expression; essentially making a citizen out of a corporation. I will accept that premise, the moment a law enforcement body imprisons Exxon for shipping oil to the Nazis after Pearl Harbour and happily funding Himmler’s personal bank account.

American Petroleum Institute, whose members include Exxon, financed mainly Republican candidates in the 2010 mid-terms. Martin Durbin, API’s executive vice president for government affairs quite openly said:

“At the end of the day, our mission is trying to influence the policy debate.”

Koch Industries Inc (those wonderful funders of the Tea Party – giving power back to the people!), gave $1.79mn to candidates. 90% of those candidates were Republicans. This of course comes as President Obama proposed ending subsidies for Gas and Electric companies by 2012. Apparently those companies aren’t happy that their Welfare cheque is about to be scrapped. A Welfare cheque that adds up to over $45bn. I wonder how Jefferson might have reacted to that little gem.

Jefferson is somewhat of an enigma for those of us who claim his opening line of the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration, that he penned at such a young age, to be the very definition of Enlightenment thinking applied politically:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

– This sentence, whilst beautifully crafted, and the first port of call for those of us who happily claim liberal secular democracy to be the most superior framework of governance thus conceived by man, is not wholly Jefferson’s making. He is paraphrasing Locke. In his second treatise, Locke writes:

“man hath by nature a power …. to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men.”

– Jefferson omits property, and estate from his own rewriting of the quote. Locke is convinced that property, is a natural right. Jefferson is not. The very first measure of Capitalism; the right to private property, Jefferson does not see fit to protect. In his private writings, he expands:

“It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land. By an universal law, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common.”

His views on property extends to his views on taxation. We all know that the Republicans of 2013 are quite adverse to raising any sort of tax on the wealthiest few, insisting as they do, that those. I have written previously on the Myth of the Wealth Creators. Jefferson however, most certainly takes a bit of a different view to modern Republicans. Writing to the great Polish and American General, Thaddeus Kosciusko in 1811, Jefferson says:

“The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied… Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone – without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings.”

– Jefferson’s views on tax, are similar to his views on Government. That, less is better, but it is necessary, it must be progressive, and it can be used for government funded projects (including healthcare, as we shall see later in this article). He certainly was no Libertarian as Alex Jones suggests. Likewise, he was no fan of economic inequality, nor did he base Republican philosophy on a refusal to tax the wealthy, nor did he accept Corporate power as legitimate in the political sphere, nor did he believe that wealth is individually created, free from a government funded framework; he believed much the opposite, that the wealthy must bare the heaviest tax burden, and that the government can and should provide for the general well being of the public, especially against, as we have already noted, the growth of commerce and industry.

He is no friend of the wealthy either:

E”xperience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”

– He has as much contempt for the prey of the wealthy on the poor, as he does for the Monarchs of Europe. Though we must point out the inconsistency in this quote, given that Jefferson was a rather wealthy man, who used slave labour to build, and rebuild, and maintain his place at Monticello. If that isn’t preying on the poor, I’m not sure what is.

The claim that Jefferson was a strict Constitutionalist is, much like every other claim on Jefferson’s character and actions; both true and untrue depending on the situation. At one point, he rejects the idea of funding a National Museum, claiming it to be beyond the power for government set out in the Constitution. He also argued against a National Bank put fourth by Alexander Hamilton, noting that the Constitution did not give that specific power. And yet, he’s quite happy to double the size of the Nation with the purchase of the Louisiana territory, using money not appropriated by Congress; this is a hugely unconstitutional show of executive central power. Let us also not forget the quote posted at the top of this article. Jefferson was not a strict constitutionalist. He was a pragmatist and an advocate for well reasoned public policy.

The right winged writers such as Thomas DiLorenzo; famed for positioning Lincoln as an awful tyrant, whom claim Jefferson stood against government funded infrastructure projects, standing opposite the big bad centralised Government proposals of the Hamiltonians. This is of course, untrue. During Jefferson’s administration, as Dumas Malone’s most wonderful six volume biography (of which, I am still making my way through) of Jefferson points out,

“The congressional session was nearing its end when the President transmitted to the Senate (April 6, 1808) a report on roads and canals, drafted by the Secretary of the Treasury, which comprised the most comprehensive and constructive domestic program that emanated from this administration.”

– He notes that the programme was not put into affect, because the threat of being drawn into the conflict in Europe at the time, loomed heavy. Whilst Jefferson stood against debt-financing of any sort, including government debt-financed programmes (though, as most things in his life, his principles and his private life seem to contradict each other), he most certainly wasn’t against State intervention for infrastructure spending. Speaking of government spending on roads, railways, canals, and public education He says:

“By these operations, new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.”

He was however, in theory (less so in practice) dedicated first to the Constitution. He made his worries known that the Constitution may not give adequate power for great government funded improvement projects, and may require an amendment further down the line, to make those powers possible. And yet, Jefferson then authorises the biggest nationalised road building project, with the Cumberland Road, with an extension of the road granted under the Presidency of Republican James Monroe in 1820.

He also notes that publicly funded education, is as important to the defence of a free people, as any other (guns etc):

“The tax which will be paid for education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up if we leave the people to ignorance.”

Further, it wasn’t just the Federalists of John Adam’s Presidency that supported government run healthcare. The Congress of 1798 passed “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman”. This meant that the government ran a series of hospitals that were paid for by labour merchant marine sailors via a tax. Whilst we may expect this from the Adam’s administration, we wouldn’t expect it from the hero of the Tea Party movement, Thomas Jefferson. Government run healthcare, according to these people, is the worst of the worst. You must be a socialist if you support it! Well, according to Adam Rothman, a Georgetown University history professor:

“…Jefferson (Hamilton’s strict constructionist nemesis) also supported federal marine hospitals, and along with his own Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, took steps to improve them during his presidency. So I guess you could say it had bipartisan support.”

We should also note the vast difference in Republican rhetoric on the use of religion in the public sphere. Jefferson did not believe that religion could be used to define an American citizen. In his own words:

“But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

– For this, and other such quotes, he angered the Christian Right of the day, many during the 1796 election campaign insisting that he was an Atheist, unworthy of public office. Pamphlets and newspapers denounced him as a heretic, whilst Church sermons were conducted insisting that if elected, Jefferson would work to destroy Christianity. Even as late as 1830, the Philadelphia public library refused to shelve any works by Jefferson, for being anti-religious. New York minister John Mitchell Mason’s “Voice of Warning to Christians,” states openly, before going on to explain why Jefferson is an ‘infidel’:

I dread the election of Mr. Jefferson, because I believe him to be a confirmed infidel: you desire it, because, while he is politically acceptable, you either doubt this fact, or do not consider it essential. Let us, like brethren, reason this matter.

– In essence, if he were alive today, the Christian Right – the Tea Party Republicans – would undoubtedly be comparing Jefferson to Hitler at some point.

Republicans today have no such problem, because they have spent the past fifty years slowly eroding secular rights, in favour of theocratic Christian ‘morality’. Reagan was the ideal candidate to play on this anti-Constitutional religious dogmatic approach to politics. He was quite willing to break down the wall that was so brilliantly erected between Church and State some 200 years previous.
In 1988 Reagan completely destroyed any trace of Enlightenment thinking within the Republican Party, that brought around the creation of the secular United States of America with his State of the Union address, in which he states:

Well now, we come to a family issue that we must have the courage to confront. Tonight, I call America — a good nation, a moral people — to charitable but realistic consideration of the terrible cost of abortion on demand. To those who say this violates a woman’s right to control of her own body — can they deny that now medical evidence confirms the unborn child is a living human being entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all federal funding for abortion — and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense.”

– By linking “good and moral people” to “Judeo-Christian tradition” and ensuring that public policy be not only influenced, but entirely informed by “Judeo-Christian tradition”, Reagan severs the link between the Republican Party of today, and the so-called Republican Party of Jefferson. This continues to the present day. Jefferson is insistent that belief in ‘God’ is not a requirement to be bound together as Americans. The new hope of the Republican Party, Marco Rubio seemingly doesn’t agree:

“We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.”

– Jefferson therefore, is not bound to the common values that Rubio insists make up the collective “we”. Jefferson, for Rubio, is unAmerican.

The ideological hero of the Tea Party Right disagrees with their principles in most ways.

We cannot claim that Jefferson was a free market Capitalist, nor that he was pro-government spending. We cannot claim he was an Atheist, nor that he was religious. He seems to transcend rivalry between many two opposite ideals, and instead chooses a course of pragmatism. A great commitment to the absolutely necessity of secularism for the sake of human rights. Modern day Republicans are still at war with the Soviet Union, claiming Socialism and ‘War on Christianity’ at every turn.
He was a pragmatist. He was neither on the Tea Party Right, nor the Democrat Centre-Left of today’s political spectrum.

Jefferson was a man who believed that small government was the best government; and yet he doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase. He was a man who wrote that all men are created equal; and yet he owned over 200 slaves. He was a man who was deeply committed to Republican values of equality; And yet, when asked to promote women to Federal offices insisted that the Republic wasn’t ready for such an “innovation”. He was a man who often retreated back to Monticello claiming to be done with public life, only to find his way back soon after. He was a man of many contradictions, but many brilliances. He was supremely gifted at the art of the written word, but lacking in putting into practice many of the principles he so eloquently professed. His contribution to posterity is timeless, and brilliant.

He must be remembered in the context of his time, and for aiding in the creation of a spectacular new way of running governments; based on reason, the right for people to govern themselves, and equality. He wasn’t perfect, he didn’t take his Republican principles to their rightful conclusions with regard slavery and women’s rights. But he understood that eventually, slaves would be emancipated, that rights would be extended beyond white, male land owners and that government would have a future role to play in providing for improvements, and general well being, and that the founding documents that frame the new Nation provide for such updates when the people demand it to be so. This is where Jefferson and his undeniable genius can be placed; not within a curiously narrow framework of revised history by a 21st Century Christian Right Winged funded-by-billionaires incoherent Tea Party movement that reshapes history to suit its ends.


Racism in America: Today

April 13, 2011

When the United States was beginning to form, there was a hierarchy of oppression that kept everyone subservient to someone above them. The King of England demanded goods from the Jamestown white elite who exploited and controlled the white frontiersman who, in order to appease the elite with money and land, slaughtered Indigenous people and brutalized African slaves. Many whites joined Indigenous and African rebellions. The white elite worked to stop this because they knew such an alliance would become too powerful and would succeed at overthrowing the control that the elite and the King had. So in order to separate the whites from everyone else, they started giving more privileges (land and better treatment) to the white servants. This worked. The working class whites effectively abandoned the movements for change and to this day these groups have problems working together.
– Howard Zinn, 1980.

46% of American Republicans in the State of Mississippi believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. I will elaborate on and explain this later.

After my blog on the racism of Abraham Lincoln, I wondered whether race is still a divisive issue today as it has always been, in America. In the UK, race is still an issue, though it is far more subtle and much less noticeable, but it exists nonetheless. There isn’t this notion of white supremacy, nor do we have the history of the “founders” being slave owners or massive racial segregation up until very recently. We don’t have a KKK equivalent and we didn’t fight a civil war to protect the rights of States to own slaves. Race is certainly a problem in the UK though. We tend to become far more Nationalist during times of economic hardship and the need to blame immigrants or anyone who doesn’t happen to fit the narrow band of what it means to be “British” becomes an almost accepted narrative. Political parties push immigration reform to the top of their agendas, giving credit to such racial tension. Race is used as a divisive mechanism to subvert attention away from a failing class system.

Here in the UK, with talk of economic austerity, it was only a matter of time before the issue of race was introduced into the equation. We know that poorer areas like inner city Liverpool, Manchester, and Hackney are going to face the toughest council cuts. Low socio-economic areas are predominantly mixed race or black and Asian. So it was only a matter of time before David Cameron would bring race into the mix. He then suddenly made a speech against multiculturalism, in which he mentions the words “islam” and “muslim” 36 times, and “Christianity” once. Race is yet again being used as a divisive wedge.

Back to the USA, and the 19th Century, before the Civil War. It has long been argued by the rather hermetic Southern America that the Civil war was a war between the States (the South) and the big bad Federal Government (the North). Yes. The States rights to own and perpetuate slavery. The charge against a big bad Federal Government invading the lives of its citizens does not hold up when you look at the evidence, and is actually rather rudimentary.

The American lawyer and journalist William Walker, in 1854, after a failed attempt to set up a Republic of Sonora in Mexico, with the intention of it becoming a State of the Union; invaded Nicaragua for control of a vital trade route between New York and San Francisco. He succeeded in his efforts, and took control of Nicaragua, renaming it “Walkeragua” (seriously, i’m not making this up). In 1856, President Franklin Pierce, officially recognised Walker’s regime in Walkeragua as legitimate. His regime began to Americanise Walkeragua, by instating slavery, using American currency, and making English the official language. He advertised his new Country to American Southern businessmen by advertising the fact that his new quasi-State was pro-slavery and would remain so. By the time Walker revoked Nicaragua’s 1824 Emancipation Act, the rest of Latin America took note, and invaded. He fled and was bought back to the U.S where he was welcomed as a hero of the South. As “States rights” go, invading another sovereign nation and revoking its anti-slavery laws, is about as big and as bad as a Federal Government can get. He died before the Civil War kicked off, but the South referred to him throughout the Civil War as “General Walker“. The South did not just fight to preserve the institution of slavery, they wanted to expand it, on a grand scale, to the point where Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed that the 36°30′ parallel north be a line that separates the northern free states, and the southern slave states, all the way down to the tip of South America. American racism has always been rife.

In 2011, membership of white supremacist organisations has increased tremendously. According the the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacist organisations in the US, the number of members is up by 48% since 2000. Jeff Schoep, head of the National Socialist Movement (the Nazi Movement) in America, who the FBI classify as terrorists, said:

“The immigration issue is the biggest problem we’re facing because it’s changing the face of our country. We see stuff in England and Spain like this. … They are turning those countries into a Third World ghetto.”

Well, I live in England, and he’s right!!! Here is the River Thames in Central London a few years back:

Here is the River Thames in Central London today:

Sad times.

The largest white supremacist group in America; Stormfront have a website with a forum, which includes systematic attacks on white jewish people. They appear to use “Jew” as a term of race. White, black, Jew. On a discussion about the economic crises, a member called “Crowstorm” whose nationality he has set as “Jewnited States of America” says this:

The problem is, Jews look White so when people see a Jew do evil, they don’t say “look at the evil Jew”… no, they say “look at that evil White man.

– It is an odd statement to make for a variety of reasons. First, a Jewish person is not the colour “Jewish“. It isn’t white, black, jew. If he’s a white man and Jewish, then he’s a white Jew. Jewish is not a race. But not just that, but race itself is not biological. It doesn’t exist. It is a fantasy. An abstraction. Like Nationality and Religion. All man made abstractions, meaningless nothingness used to create tension between low socio-economic groups to ensure disunity. If poor white people are blaming poor black people for all the trouble in New Orleans after Katrina hit, then their attention is on each other, and not on the very rich folk in Washington (both white and black) who washed their hands of the plight of anyone who isn’t a very wealthy lobbyist decades ago. And lastly, no one says “look at the evil white man”, because for the vast majority of people, race isn’t an issue; if you’re evil, I don’t care what colour you are.

Another quite extraordinary post on Stormfront was from a school teacher who taught apparently in black schools. Here are some of the quotes from it:

I was away about two minutes but when I got back, the black girls had lined up at the front of the classroom and were convulsing to the delight of the boys.

Many black people, especially women, are enormously fat.

Blacks, on average, are the most directly critical people I have ever met: “Dat shirt stupid. Yo’ kid a bastard. Yo’ lips big.” Unlike whites, who tread gingerly around the subject of race, they can be brutally to the point.

When a black wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” he may actually say “Whar da badroom be?”

Many black girls are perfectly happy to be welfare queens.

There is something else that is striking about blacks. They seem to have no sense of romance, of falling in love.

Pregnancy was common among the blacks, though many black girls were so fat I could not tell the difference.

My white students came back with generally “conservative” ideas. “We need to cut off people who don’t work,” was the most common suggestion. Nearly every black gave a variation on the theme of “We need more government services.” One black girl was exhorting the class on the need for more social services and I kept trying to explain that people, real live people, are taxed for the money to pay for those services. “Yeah, it come from whites,” she finally said. “They stingy anyway.”

It is impossible to get them to care about such abstractions as property rights or democratic citizenship.

– The “teacher” goes on to say he doesn’t understand why his black students think he his a racist. Surely it isn’t racist to think that black students are inherently lazy, fat, illiterate, racist, anti-democratic, communist sluts who just don’t understand why being indoctrinated in Conservative ideology is a wonderful learning experience and are incapable of love?

The days of burning crosses and wearing silly costumes are over. White supremacists tend now to fight their cause with mainstream language like “We just want to protect our children and live in a safe environment“, the language is manipulative because they are simply masking the fact that they blame anyone with slightly darken skin for why their neighborhood isn’t safe.

A study by the American economic review between July 2001 and May 2002 entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” , found that job applicants with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to be asked back than an applicant with a white sounding name. The researches sent out 5000 applications in sales, marketing, clerical and customer service positions. The names they used were a mix of white sounding names, and black sounding names. The report showed that white applicants with stronger resumes than other white applicants received 30% more callbacks, whereas black applicants with stronger resumes than other black applicants received just 9% more callbacks. It proved that regardless of credentials, black applicants were 50% less likely to get a callback than a white applicant.

Institutional racism is particularly subtle, and so less noticeable. If you are black, you are three times more likely to be pulled over in your car and searched for drugs than if you’re white, despite the fact that if you’re white, on the few occasions when you are pulled over you are four times more likely to have drugs on you. If you are white and you drive past the police without them pulling you over, you are experiencing the privilege of being white. The war on drugs then, is not a war on drugs, if it were, those statistics would be a hell of a lot different. The war on drugs would go where the drugs actually are, not where the people with dark skin are. It is a racist institution.

Christopher Columbus is hailed as the founder of America. He has a day named after him. It is not taught in any history class at American schools the true horror that started the day that Columbus found an island in the Lucayan Archipelago in the Bahamas that he named San Salvador, though it was actually already named, by the population who lived there, as Guanahani. Within years, Spanish adventurers had captured thousands of the native Taino population, enslaved them, and took their women captive as wives/sex slaves. The Spanish had utterly devastated the Taino population by the turn of the 16th Century. Epidemic disease brought by the Europeans was bad enough, but the Spanish settlers placed too much strain on local crop farmers, and the survival of the Spanish was considered more important than the survival of the Taino’s and so the food naturally ended up in the hands of the Spanish. Columbus when he landed, wrote of the natives:

“We can send from here, in the name of the Holy Trinity, all the slaves and Brazil wood which could be sold.”

– We know what he had planned. Nicolas Ovando, the governor of the Indies from 1501 to 1509, decided he needed to ensure the Taino’s knew their place once and for all. He did this by inviting the much loved Taino queen Anacoana and local tribal chiefs to a dinner to celebrate his governorship. When they were all in the room, the Spaniards set it on fire, killing most of those inside. The ones who got out, were tortured for days on end and then killed. Queen Anacoana was tortured and hung. By 1510, the Taino’s were virtually extinct.

To be honest, there really isn’t much you can celebrate about Columbus. Apart from bringing with him the biggest genocide in history, he was a rather simple man. He believed Cuba was in Asia, that he hadn’t discovered a new land, that the entire continent of South America was an Island, and to pay his debt to the Spanish crown he raped his way across Central America taking as many as 1200 women and children slaves for Europe; children who had, without a second thought, been stripped away from their families. But don’t take my word for, take it from the man himself:

“We shall take you and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault .”

I cannot think of a worse man to idolise.

Back to the present day, as if Stormfront and institutional racism and selective history aren’t enough to convince a person that racism is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, certain lovely little advertisements have deep racist connotations, still.

Aunt Jemima, a trademark for breakfast food owned by Quaker Oats is still going today. Aunt Jemima represents the notion of a good little black ex-slave girl who just loves her servile role as servant to a white middle class consumer.

Equally as subtle, is Uncle Ben’s rice. It would be ridiculous for a company now, to have as its fictional spokesperson, a black man using the name “Uncle” which was a term used by the children of white slave owners to refer to their slaves. If a newly formed rice company were to say “Well, you know that we white people used to ship Africans in to farm our rice fields, as slaves? Well why don’t we make our spokesmen black?” they would be lambasted as a hugely racist company. But Uncle Ben is a tradition, and so it appears acceptable, though the stereotype behind it perpetuates the racist sentiments it subtly encourages. This kind of subtle cultural racism has not gone unnoticed. In an episode of the Sopranos (the greatest show on TV) Tony warns a black guy away from his daughter. Tony then has an anxiety attack when he sees a packet of Uncle Ben’s.

Public Policy Polling of Raleigh North Carolina, found that 46% of Republican voters in Mississippi think interracial marriage should be illegal. 14% said they weren’t sure. I cannot comprehend that number. It does indeed show that race is an issue, and especially with Republican voters. There is still the essence that the white race is superior and should be protected. This sentiment has found its outlet with the Tea Party movement of recent months. Whilst Glenn Beck spews his bullshit, insisting on top rated “news” channel that Obama has a deep seated hatred for the white race, his equally as vacant and mind numbingly moronic viewers stalk the streets with signs like this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

Now I wouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the Tea Party is an inherently racist organisation, it is mainly a vehicle to promote the incoherent ramblings of an uneducated economically far right puritanical Republican group wholly run by Corporate America to advance its interest at the behest of even the idiots who indirectly fight for the rights of Corporate America, now slowly morphed to include racism as part of their base.

It is sad to see notion of race being such an issue in 21st Century America. One would have hoped that the social wedge of racism, placed to draw attention away from class and a deeply unequal wealth system would have crumbled away, or intellectually and politically dismembered for the disease that it is. Race is not real. Class is.


Racism in America: Lincoln

March 2, 2011

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought with it the utopic notion that racism in the United States of America was over. I certainly do not the doubt the momentous appointment of an African American man to the office of President of a country that was built on racial genocide and slavery. A country that less than a century ago, during the life time of my grandparents, did not allow a white child to attend the same school as a black child simply on the basis of race. The elevation of a black man to the highest office in American politics is symbolically another step on the road to tackling the evils of racism.

This blog isn’t meant as an analysis of Obama. He is essentially part of an establishment that favours financial institutions, oil companies and private health insurers above the lives of the less wealthy, and panders to the apparently widespread American belief that the very wealthy deserve massive tax cuts at the behest of the most vulnerable. He is no different in that respect regardless of his skin colour.

I wanted instead to focus on the beliefs of America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and his complex and often contradictory approach to slavery. Like Jefferson before him, it is almost impossible to figure out where Lincoln stood on the issue, and conflicting books are widespread. Lincoln’s party politics and his true beliefs seem to be confused much of the time, and yet history tends to stick entirely to his party politics regardless of the motives. I wanted to explore those motives more in depth.

Yesterday I went along to see an hour long lecture by Professor Richard Carwardin, the President of Corpus Christi College Oxford and winner of the Lincoln Prize for his book “Lincoln: A life of purpose and power“, a favourite of George W.Bush. Obviously there is a very limited and narrow version of Lincoln’s life one can present in just an hour, but Carwardin alluded to Lincoln as a great emancipator, as if he had been way a head of his time and the progressive champion for the freedom of black slaves, willing to fight a war for its eradication.
I would argue differently.

Lincoln wasn’t happy with the fact that slavery had become an issue by the time he took office. Lincoln told the esteemed journalist Henry Villard;

“I will be damned if I don’t feel almost sorry for being elected when the niggers is the first thing I have to attend to.”

Lincoln was not prepared to go to war for the abolition of slavery in itself. He had agreed to back an amendment to the Constitution, penned by the Representative from Ohio, Thomas Corwin, that would have made it Unconstitutional for Congress to amend rules or abolish slavery. Lincoln backed it.
The Corwin amendment read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State

In his inaugural address, Lincoln referenced the proposed amendment, stating:

“Holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Interestingly, the amendment passed Congress by the two-thirds majority needed, but was never fully ratified in the State legislatures, and is still up for ratification, as it was never thrown out. If it had been fully ratified, one must wonder just how different the U.S would look today. The fact remains though that up until the outbreak of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln supported a Constitutional Amendment rendering it impossible to abolish the institution of slavery.

The worry from the Republican Party of the Lincoln years, was not so much the moral implications of ethical dilemma of the owning of slave labour, but the economic problems it creates. They worried that slave labour merely worked to undermine wages of the poor white working classes, and just created a new dominant class known as “Slave Power”. They worried that the Slave owning classes in the South were just violent and expansionist people with a goal of Empire. This paranoia wasn’t without merit, but it was borne out of the relatively new Nation’s deep suspicion of Empire and too much power. Lincoln charged that the Southern Democrats and slave owning classes were out to take over Cuba and the war on Mexico seemed to confirm those suspicions. The Civil War Confederate cry of “States rights!!” was simply the right for the very wealthy land owners in the South to keep and abuse people with darker skin, and the right to centralise power within very few hands. Only the free States were fighting for States rights.

Lincoln’s famous signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is doubtful whether the proclamation actually freed any slaves whatsoever. Depending on your source, it was either the greatest achievement of the short Presidency of Lincoln, or it was useless. No one really knows. One thing is for sure, Lincoln signed the proclamation as a further attack on the South (rightfully so). In September 1862, he demanded they return to the Union or he would free their slaves. Not “and i’ll free your slave“. It’s an ultimatum. If you rejoin the USA, you get to keep your slaves… if you don’t, we’re freeing them. He is more concerned here with preserving the Union – an abstract concept – than ending slavery. The Proclamation not only didn’t free slaves in the Confederacy, it didn’t free slaves in the slave holding States in the Union – Kentucky and Maryland.

The Proclamation looked good for Lincoln, as it put real pressure on the Confederacy. France and Britain were very anti-slavery, and he needed support and recognition of the legitimacy of the USA in a war that at the time, no one knew which way it might go. With the support of France and Britain, and so legitimacy, it helped Lincolns case. It was similar in a way, to how old European powers gained legitimacy. When Henry Tudor took the Kingship away from Richard III, he was a nobody on the European stage and England was at civil war, much like America. Tudor needed an air of legitimacy, so he married Elizabeth of York; she happened to be the niece of Richard, and daughter of King Edward IV. This was the legitimacy Henry required, and won. He rather secured himself, by marrying his son – Arthur – off to the daughter – Catherine of Aragon – of the most powerful family in Europe; the King and Queen of Spain. The marriages and alliances were all about protecting himself, and securing his throne, not about love nor about the wellbeing of his Kingdom. Lincoln signed the Emancipation declaration, to protect his Throne by winning the support of the English and the French. Up until the Proclamation was signed, it seemed Britain was on the side of the Confederacy, having been involved in the provision of the British made warships the CSS Alabama and the CSS Florida.

Lincoln knew the Proclamation, which freed black slaves in Confederate States that fell to the Union forces, would compel black slaves and freed slaves to help the Union armies. He stressed in a letter to his friend James C. Conkling:

“I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union.”

The freedom of the slaves with the passing of the 13th Amendment was a tiny ripple in the water. Saying to a group of people who have had no access to education, to family ties, to survival, to anything other than a system that treated them as less than human for so long, that they are now “free”, is worthless. It is not freedom. It would take another 100 years before the real reforms were introduced. Lincoln was not a head of his time. The abolitionists were calling for equality, not just the ending of slavery. Economically, black Americans would be held down for more than a century in place of White privilege. Lincoln may have given them freedom, but he certainly did not give them anything anywhere near equality, and he knew it.

Even the banning of slavery expanding into new territories was a rather obscure policy that was not designed for the sake of the wellbeing of black Americans, rather it was an attempt to keep black people from being shipped to America full stop. It was a white supremacist policy that today would be deplored as vicious and racist. Lincoln, when talking about the banning of slavery expanding to new territories stated that he did not want the United States:

…….to become an asylum for slavery and niggers

The expansion into the West was an opportunity to spread the white race for Lincoln, who had no desire to see black people live there, stating in 1858 in Illinois, that:

in favor of our new territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home … as an outlet for free white people everywhere, the world over.

Lincoln was therefore using race as an unnecessary social divide. Race had only really became an issue, during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Up until then, nobody really cared what race you were. White slaves existed in the Colonies way before black slaves. The worry was that they would join hands and rise up, so race was used to divide them. Tell a poor white slave that he is more important in God’s eyes than a poor black slave, and suddenly there is no chance they will rise up together and overthrow the economic powers that hold them both down.

In 1853, Lincoln backed the Illinois State law that banned freed black people from moving to Illinois. They weren’t so free afterall. Lincoln it seems, was obsessed with the division of black and white, and even Mexicans, whom he referred to, out of the blue, for no reason, as:

“most decidedly a race of mongrels. I understand that there is not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white.”

He was a power obsessed, white supremacist.

The great emancipators in the Congress and the abolitionist leaders who pressured and pressured for Lincoln to keep to his line on abolition. Thaddeus Stevens, in the House of Representatives, and Chairman of the Ways and Means committee was a committed Abolitionist. This man was ahead of his time. He helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. He protected the rights of Jewish and Chinese Americans and he defended the rights of Native Americans. Stevens was a hero of the Civil War era and should be remembered as such, far above Lincoln. But one man stood out as great, even beyond that of Thaddeus Stevens, and that man was Charles Sumner, the Senator from Massachusetts.

Charles Sumner absolutely hated the institution of slavery. As did his father before him. He argued that freeing the slaves would achieve nothing, unless it was accompanied by a raft of legislation promoting equal rights both politically and economically. This was 100 years before equal rights began to take shape. He is responsible for one of my favourite quotes from history, that I tend to live by when shaping my political thoughts:

“The Utopias of one age have been the realities of the next.”

Sumner argued in a court case, that segregation was an abomination. The year was 1848. The case was Roberts VS Boston. It lead to the ban on segregation on the basis of race in all public schools in Massachusetts. It was over 100 years before the rest of the country would catch up.

Sumner’s extraordinary career taught me that it is okay to think radically, even if the rest of your contemporaries think that you are an idealist living in a dream land. The contemporary Senators did not like Sumner for his radical ideas on racial integration and equality, one Senator suggested that Sumner was unimportant and should be ignored:

“The ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm.”

It is a myth that Lincoln was a great emancipator and forward thinker and it is a great injustice that men like Charles Sumner go unrecognised and ignored by history.
Sumner’s face should be on Mount Rushmore. Not Lincoln’s.

Anyway, as Sumner argued, The Proclamation was meaningless, the 13th Amendment was the result of much pressure put on the administration. Lincoln himself once remarked quite tellingly:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

He stresses exactly why he felt compelled to free the slaves. It was not on grounds of compassion or freedom or respect for the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, far from it, he did it for the sake of his own power:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Abraham Lincoln was not a great emancipator. Nor was he one of the great forward thinking abolitionists of the time. He was a racist and a white supremacist who put his own position and power above that of the rights of a group of people who had different coloured skin. It is quite extraordinary that history teaches us that President Lincoln was one of the great Presidents who ended the horrific institution of slavery. The reality is far more ambiguous. It is much like the celebrating of Columbus day as a great day in American history, when in fact it simply marked the beginnings of a mass genocide. History should be taught with equal weight to both interpretations, if the subject is as ambiguous as that of President Lincoln and the question of slavery.