Monthly Archives: June 2017

Best of the Blogs (6-23-2017)

  1. (June 23, 2017) Over at Grant Under Fire, Joe Rose draws attention to one of the most original Civil War historians of a bygone era, Otto Eisenschiml, who first established an excellent reputation as an industrial chemist before becoming engrossed in Civil War historiography. While Eisenschiml is thought provoking, Rose cautions that “Eisenschiml’s conclusions may be very wrong, at times, [but] his attempt to look at the evidence in a scientific way seems to me to be the only way to go.”
  2. Circa1865.org cites Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, trying to convince the new president that the only possible result from reinforcing Fort Sumter would mean “…that we have inaugurated a civil war by our own act, without adequate object…

Tampa’s Confederate Soldier Statue

(June 21, 2107) Like many Southern towns, Tampa contemplates removing its solitary  Confederate statue. As a tangible historical representation of the popular sentiment in the area when it was erected in 1911, however,  it should remain. Later memorials can similarly show—tangibly—how sentiments changed.

Few present critics realize Florida’s extraordinary commitment to the Confederacy. It was the only state that provided more soldiers than were registered to vote at the start of the Civil War. There can be no wonder that the surviving family members wanted to honor the loved and lost. It would have been unnatural if they had not. Modern critics also fail to realize that the survivors endured forty-five years of post Civil War poverty before they were even able to save enough money to afford a statue, despite the fact that Northern statues permeated the battlefield parks, beginning decades earlier.

Instead of removing the 1911 monument it is better to authorize new memorials honoring later historical figures that championed reformations reflecting the attitudes of their own times. One Tampa example is the renaming of fourteen-mile long Buffalo Avenue for Martin Luther King.

In fact, Florida seems to have done more to memorialize King than have many Northern states. Our state has 19 MLK streets distributed among its cities whereas Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island have none, while Iowa and Minnesota have one, Connecticut two, Massachusetts two, and Pennsylvania three.

Moreover, all the former Confederate states generally have far more streets honoring King than similarly sized Northern states. North Carolina and New Jersey, for example, have comparable populations but the Southern state has twenty-nine MLK streets whereas the Northern one has only eight. Similarly, even though Ohio has four times the population of Mississippi, the Buckeye State has only eight MLK streets whereas the state with the Confederate banner in its flag has sixteen.

When using MLK street memorials as a yardstick it seems that the Northern states are the ones with a racial sensitivity deficit.

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The Kingdom and the Power

(June 19, 2017) In 1966 Gay Talese wrote a history of The New York Times spanning the preceding seventy years or so. Since the newspaper’s influence had never been greater, Talese titled his book The Kingdom and the Power. During the 1960s the newspaper gave voice to minority opinions such as civil rights and feminism that eventually transformed our society.

Turner Catledge and Clifton Daniel were the two Managing Editors during that influential decade. Neither had graduated from New York’s Columbia University Journalism School, which was the standard entry ticket into The Times. Neither had even attended an Ivy League school and instead graduated from state universities in Mississippi and North Carolina. Despite coming-of-age in small Southern towns during the Jim Crow era, both men were open-minded enough to encourage minority viewpoints.

Presently, however, The Times, and other venerable journalistic organizations, such as The Atlantic and The Washington Post, are intolerant of minority opinions, at least in terms of Confederate heritage. In combination the three publications have released dozens of articles and editorials applauding and advocating the removal and restriction of Confederate monuments, no matter how long they have stood untouched. The trio generally insist that Confederate symbols can have only a racist meaning. With perhaps a single exception, they have refused to publish any articles giving voice to a different opinion.

It is a stretch requiring a bungee cord to believe that they have not received a number of worthy article submissions with viewpoints different than their own. Instead, it appears that they are, unlike Catledge and Daniel, censoring minority opinion. One result is that well crafted opposing essays, like “New Orleans is not New Orleans Anymore” are limited to online magazines…and there are darn few of those as well.

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Speaking Truth to Power

(June 18, 2017) By one definition a person is speaking truth to power when they “stick their head above the parapet and tell those in authority how it really is.” The Wiktionary similarly states the phrase means “to address facts to an authority,” presumably when such facts are overlooked by that authority.

Thus, in the spirit of speaking truth to power the genius de jour, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was praised three years ago for his magazine article suggesting that the United States pay reparations to African-Americans as compensation for slavery. There were, however, two ways that Mr. Coates was not really speaking truth to power in the context of the meanings above.

First, he was not an outsider. Coates was a regular columnist at The Atlantic, which is among America’s most venerable periodicals. The mainstream media almost universally praised his reparations essay. He followed it a year later with perhaps the thinest non-fiction book to ever win the National Book Award. That led to a McArthur Foundation award, which granted him $125,000 annually over five years ending in 2021.

Second, the most significant unnoticed fact among Coates and his power elite is that former Confederates and their descendants have already paid a form of reparations, if not for slavery, then as a consequence of losing the Civil War. It should not be assumed that the Southern states escaped reparations-equivalent penalties merely because they were readmitted to the Union.

As the preceding table illustrates, more than half of federal tax revenues for twenty-five years after the Civil War were applied to three items, which exclusively benefitted Northerners although former Confederates were required to pay their share of the taxes needed to fund them. If such items as interest on the federal debt, budget surpluses, and Union veterans benefits were paid by an independent defeated foe, they would undeniably been classified as reparations.

The budget surpluses were used to repay federal war debts, which had jumped 40-fold from $65 million at the start of the Civil War to $2.7 billion at the end. The debt took the form of federal war bonds, which were held exclusively by Northerners. In addition to helping to pay off the bonds without owning any of them, Southerners were burdened with another penalty linked to federal bond policies.

Specifically, a law adopted four years after the Civil War required that federal debt be redeemed in gold. During the war, however, the great majority of investors used paper money, which traded at a discount to gold, to buy the bonds. The discount got to be as much as 63%—meaning that a paper dollar was worth only thirty-seven cents—after General Grant sustained heavy casualties in 1864 only to be stalemated at the siege of Petersburg. Similarly, interest on federal war bonds was also paid in gold.

Since the bonds and interest had to be paid in gold, the amount of paper money required to pay them off was larger than the face amounts of the bonds and their interest coupons. The difference was an extra cost to the taxpayer but a sizeable bonus to the bondholder, none of who were former Confederates.

Additionally, former Confederates derived no benefit from generous federal spending on Union veteran pensions. Ex-Rebel soldiers could only collect much smaller pensions from their respective states. Union veteran pensions were originally paid only to soldiers who had sustained disabling injuries during military service, but Republicans gradually expanded eligibility in order to cement veterans as one of the Party’s chief voter constituencies. In 1904 any Union veteran over age 62 was regarded as disabled thereby transforming the program from a disability assistance platform into an old age retirement system. In the 1893 such pensions represented an astounding 40% of the federal budget.

By 1917 Union veterans and their dependents had collected about $5 billion in pensions, which was more than double the amount spent to fight the war by all of the Northern state governments and the federal government combined. Annual spending on Union veteran pensions did not peak until 1921, which was over 55 years after the war had ended. By 1950 cumulative pension spending had totaled $8 billion, which exceeded three times the amount spent to fight the war. The last pension check was paid in 2016.

Demonstrating that Southerners have already paid reparations is a more valid example of speaking truth the power than is Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” for two reasons. First, the historical facts document that the payments have already been made. Second, those facts are truly overlooked by the zeitgeist in power, of which Coates is a himself member instead of an outsider.

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Consequence of Academic Intolerance

(June 15, 2017) Although it has been obvious that decades of academic intolerance toward Confederate heritage eventually evolved into the current public movement toward censorship, yesterday’s Alexandria shooting demonstrates that academic tyranny against even more general diversity of opinions has spread to our society at large.

When alluding to earlier student violence at Berkeley and Middlebury College, which was motivated by the teachings of professors opposed to freedom of speech, Kevin Williams of The New Republic insightfully concluded:

The violence at Berkeley and Middlebury did not lead to the shooting in Alexandria—they are part of the same phenomenon.

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