19 August, 2011

The Economics of the Civil War

A fantastic, well-researched article about what I wrote in the title. Or perhaps more accurately, about the economic aftermath of the Civil War. Not arguing one way or the other for a "side", just giving some facts and helping to debunk some of the common myths about what happened economically in that messy time of so-called "Reconstruction". It's one bad spot? Guelzo unfortunately misreads Henry Adams'  sarcasm and casts him as an example of the Progressive disillusionment with the Civil War. Adams' position, if you read through to the end of his autobiography, turns out to be rather antithetical to Progressivism, and certainly not altogether disapproving of the C.W. Whatever my complaints about Adams, I find the explication of Lincoln's position to be quite excellent. Do persevere through to the end and get to that, even if economics bores you.

A War Lost and Found

10 August, 2011

Mark Shea on the Civil War

Very reasonably, Mark Shea does not attempt to make any definitive declaration about which side was "justified" in the Civil War, though that is what the questioner here asks him to do. He points out problems with both sides that I'm very ready to admit. Remember that my staunch defense of the north in this blog is a reaction to my time at college in the south, where I was horrified by southern attempts to make their half of the country into a bunch of martyrs for "the Roman ideal" or "Western Civilization" some such nonsense (Well, I guess the Romans did base their aristocratic leisure on slavery...but with the Catholic denunciation of slavery dating from St. Patrick and earlier, it was hardly "Western Civilization" at it's height..unless by Western Civilization they mean "that state in which non-Europeans are oppressed"). The north was never perfect, because there is no such thing as a "perfect" side in war. We could even get into all that with WWII...Look at FDR's motivations for fighting Hitler, for instance, and the rose-tinted glasses Hollywood has provided us for generations will disappear.

On the whole, I see the war not as a triumph, but a tragedy, in which the respective flaws of both parts of the country infected the conflict and turned the honest efforts and sacrifices of ordinary Americans into a mockery of idealistic intents. Particularly tragic is what the war turned into after it was fought. With Lincoln, despite his flaws, you have a man desperate to uphold the core of the constitution, whether he made mistakes in doing so or not. You have an honest desire to mend the divisions of the war and to welcome the south back after the war was ended. Instead, Lincoln died, the power-mongers of the Senate jumped into the gap, and the  powers that the Federal government can be argued to have constitutionally in time of war into the powers it has in time of peace as well. Reconstruction was botched. Opportunists from both parts of the country were allowed free reign. The ideals which were being fought for disintegrated as the slaves were freed but denied the opportunity to make an independent life for themselves and the southerners contributed to their own impoverishment by refusing to actually work in pursuit of their own self-improvement, preferring to live in a constant state of resentment of history that persists to this day and is comparable only to the African American resentment of their ancestors' enslavement--ironically, a complaint that said southerners tend to decry as "liberal" self-martyrization while they themselves do precisely the same thing.

Whatever the injustices of the war, however, it is absolutely crucial to recognize that imperfections in the way the war was carried out and mixed motives on the part of many northerners do not invalidate the heroism of the thousands of northerners in the field during the war who believed they were fighting for the just application of the Declaration to all men.

Two excerpts from Shea's blog nicely articulate what I've been arguing thus far; plus, it's always nice to realize one's not the only one crazy enough to suggest that the Civil War might actually have had something to do with slavery and that Romanticizing the south is inherently problematic:

Like it or not, in the South, the reality is that slavery had everything to do with the shots fired on Fort Sumter and the whole domino fall of secession. The South fought for “State’s Rights” because the South was fighting for the right to keep an agrarian economy based on slavery. That’s what the war was about. It was the simmering resentment of a northern economy that was squeezing the life from the South *and* looking down on the South with increasing contempt for their “peculiar institution.” No slavery, and there might very well never have been a Civil War.
. . .what the Civil Rights Movement forcefully reminded us of with the images of good white Christian folk screaming at kids for the crime of going to school in a black skin, or Bull Connor and his dogs and fire hoses, was that the Romanticism of the South (much like our culture’s present Romanticism about the rise of the Women’s movement) acted not only to celebrate what was good, but to obfuscate some real evils. Just as the story of feminism includes not only the righting of real wrongs against women, but also the sacramentalization of abortion as a core value, so the romanticism of the Southern role in the Recent Unpleasantness systematically overlooked the continuation of the slave culture under other names until the Civil Rights movement reminded us that the war may, after all, have been a necessary first step in purging America of the original sin of its founding.

Lincoln's Nascent Christianity

As described by Joshua F. Speed in 1864:

“As I entered the room near night, [Lincoln] was sitting near a window reading his Bible. Approaching him, I said, ‘I am glad to see you profitably engaged.’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I am profitably engaged.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you have recovered from your skepticism I am sorry to say that I have not!’ Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand upon my shoulder, he said: ‘You are wrong Speed; take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith and you will live and die a happier and better man.’”

Also this.


Though I have long defended the Emancipation Proclamation as a sincere piece of legislation rather than mere political manipulation on Lincoln's part (one is, after all, allowed to grow in one's beliefs, no? cf. Ronald Reagan's changing views on abortion for instance?), I did not know this. Namely, that great pressure was actually being put on the president in 1863 to use the Proclamation as a bargaining chip to end the war quickly. The idea being that the South would agree to rejoin the Union if the North would forget about publishing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln's response?
 “I should be damned in time and in eternity were I to do that.  I will keep faith with the gallant black soldiers who have fought and died for this nation at Port Hudson and Olustee. The Proclamation sticks.”

09 August, 2011

A Few Quotes

Frederick Douglass

"The American people and the Government at Washington may refuse to recognize it for a time but the inexorable logic of events will force it upon them in the end; that the war now being waged in this land is a war for and against slavery."

"Viewing the man from the genuine abolitionist ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed cold, tardy, weak and unequal to the task. But, viewing him from the sentiments of his people, which as a statesman he was bound to respect, then his actions were swift, bold, radical and decisive. Taking the man in the whole, balancing the tremendous magnitude of the situation, and the necessary means to ends, Infinite Wisdom has rarely sent a man into the world more perfectly suited to his mission than Abraham Lincoln."

Sam Houston:
“To secede from the Union and set up another government would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country-the young men.”
"Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it. The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche."

Stonewall Jackson:
(In response to a comment that it was a shame to shoot so many brave men): "'No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave."

William Tecumseh Sherman:
 “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it.

Henry Adams:

"I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. It's always the good men who do the most harm in the world."

(Haven't I always said it's the impractical idealists who do the most harm? Bear in mind also that this was said in context of the South's pigheaded refusal to come to a compromise when Lincoln offered them a generous chance after Fort Sumter.) 

Joshua Chamberlain

"But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic, to articulate their agony...It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field." 

 (On the surrender at Appomatox: "...On they come, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle flags. In the van, the proud Confederate ensign. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word, nor whisper or vain-glorying, nor motion of man, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

(I can hardly help being proud that this fellow from Maine was also one of the best writers of the war.)

Abraham Lincoln:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Pope Gregory XVI:

"We warn and adjure earnestly in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to vex anyone, despoil him of his possessions, reduce to servitude, or lend aid and favour to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not men but rather animals, having been brought into servitude, in no matter what way, are, without any distinction, in contempt of the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and devoted sometimes to the hardest labour. Further, in the hope of gain, propositions of purchase being made to the first owners of the Blacks, dissensions and almost perpetual conflicts are aroused in these regions. 

We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices above-mentioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter."

08 August, 2011

Winslow Homer

I will frankly admit that much of what I love about Winslow Homer is his preoccupation with everything I love about the New England coast. His "mature" period as a painter was spent in Maine, and most of his famous ocean scenes date from that time. But beyond the sympathies born of a common heritage and a common love for what is arguably one of the most unconquered portions of the natural world, there is much else about Homer's work that I find fascinating.

You have first his early French period, during which he drew on Millet's scenes of country life and was encouraged in his already-remarkable use of natural light by the example of the impressionists.

Above: "Artists Sketching in the White Mountains," 1868.

Compare the lighting in the above to that in Millet's Gleaners, though  there are few other similarities between the two paintings. Homer's earliest American paintings tended to focus on the middle class who would have been the type to want themselves in a painting, in stark contrast to Millet's work (out of a natural enough desire to have sell-able paintings. Once he changed his subject matter, sadly, he hardly sold anything.) The French painter did, however, provide the inspiration for Homer's next major development; during Homer's Maine period, he built upon Millet's tendency to depict people who were less obviously "self-conscious", or at least less conscious of posing for a picture. Like Millet, he refused to sentimentalize his subjects, giving them a heroic dignity through his recognition of their struggles (think of Catherine the Great's bowdlerized  trip through Russian peasant villages for an appropriate contrast). Not like we're talking about a socialist disposition in either painter; respect for hard work, rather, and even awe at the daring of man facing off against nature. Exactly what you see in this picture:

An interesting one (and famous), and a good (if extreme) example of the above-described struggle, though not one I'm all that fond of, since it's far more Romantic than the average Winslow Homer painting. A tad Sturm und Drang, one might say, given the setting. But it bucks that label, and retains my respect, through the odd choice of depicting the sailor as so remarkably impassive. There's none at all of the romantic hero's angst to be seen here. No wailing about the state of the world or the cruelty of Nature/Fate. There are sharks, a water spout, and a ship on the horizon, but this man is just lying there without reacting to any of them. There's a certain selflessness involved in working with nature, in inherently dangerous conditions, and that's precisely what you see in this man's reaction (and throughout Homer's paintings, really). There's not much he can do about his situation, now he's there, and he seems completely resigned to the fact. He certainly doesn't seem offended by his fate, nor particularly interested in evading it. A recognition of the natural order of things: man can do a lot that he perhaps shouldn't be able to do, given his rather puny stature in comparison with nature, but the latter can run roughshod over us whenever we push past the comfortable confines of the town on shore and dare to venture out there.

Homer has one rather amusing quote about this painting, actually, given in response to a request for the " narrative"  of the painting: "I regret very much that I have painted a picture that requires any description....I have crossed the Gulf Stream ten times & I should know something about it. The boat & sharks are outside matters of very little consequence. They have been blown out to sea by a hurricane. You can tell these ladies that the unfortunate negro who now is so dazed & parboiled, will be rescued & returned to his friends and home, & ever after live happily." Very nice.

And while we're at it, here's my favorite Winslow Homer of all: "The Fox Hunt", 1893. A late painting, and an even darker one than  the last. Starving ravens descending upon a fox. One can also see some influence of the Japanese three-paneled design here, as well as Homer's late (and depressing)  version of Darwinism.

Another amusing anecdote: Homer showed Elbridge Oliver, the Scarborough, Maine stationmaster, the first version of this painting and asked his opinion. The stationmaster responded "Hell, Win, them ain't crows"... Homer and Oliver proceeded to observe crows descending on scattered bits of corn, and Homer revised his painting according to Oliver's advice.

06 August, 2011

Burchfield, "Night of the Equinox"

Oh so much reincarnationalism....

...but such a nice bit of poetry.

"At times I almost dream
I too have spent a life the sages' way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out -- not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again."
 --From Robert Browning's "Paraclesus"

"I Want to Believe"

One starts by making one concession to popular culture, and it all comes rushing in. Everything is making me think of that really-not-quite-Shakespeare television show, the X-Files lately. Even this quote from Flannery O'Connor: "I think there is no suffering greater than that caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment that is. But I can only see it in myself anyway as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket when, of course, it is the cross."

Interestingly enough, that's something that the show kind of gets right. The characters who "want to believe" (remember that rather corny movie title?) aren't exactly drawing comfort from it. The risks run from job loss to the discomfort of knowing that life is rather darker than it seems. But somehow the truth itself is worth knowing. The ultimate non-utilitarian understanding of truth: not the Jamesian definition of truth as "whatever works, but the age-old understanding of truth as that which is real. Aristotle starts his Nicomachean Ethics with the claim that: "All men by nature desire to know." A life run like a well-oiled machine, free from the discomfort of grinding gears and occasional breakdowns may be desirable from a utilitarian perspective. But courageous thinkers from Plato through Aquinas and Maritain find truth an end good in itself. X-Files, as I've complained before, doesn't know what that truth is, and only half hints at times that God might have something to do with it. But in a society where utilitarianism has so much sway on the cultural consciousness, "I Want to Believe" (one might clarify, "even if the truth is uncomfortable") isn't such a terrible place to start.

04 August, 2011

King Lear at Monmouth

Just saw a fantastic performance of King Lear at the Monmouth Theater. Many thoughts. I will probably blog about it soon.

02 August, 2011


Really, one need read no more of this article than the title. Sugar-coated Satan sandwich, eh? Glad to see rhetoric survived the 70s.