Author Archives: Phil Leigh

Rescuing Old Joe

Whoever weds himself to the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.    —   William Inge

Few realize that Florida was so committed to The War Between the States that she gave more soldiers to repel Northern invaders than she had registered voters. Gainesville was among the towns that responded. As a result, the local United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) chapter erected a statue of an ordinary infantryman in honor of the hometown boys who had fallen, including many buried anonymously far from home. When erected in 1904 most of the living veterans were in their sixties and seventies. In May 2017 the county commissioners voted to remove the monument, which had become fondly known to most residents during the previous 113 years as Old Joe.

After the vote one audience member raised her hand to ask a question. The Chair recognized Nansea Markham who is President of the local UDC chapter. She asked, “What will you do with the memorial?”

The county attorney explained that the statue would be sold at auction if it was worth over $2,000. Otherwise Joe would be scrapped.

Nansea stood and held an old document at shoulder height before saying, “I’m sorry. You cannot do that.” Motioning with the papers she added, “This is the original 1903 document pertinent to Old Joe’s legal status. It shows that he remains the property of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

The commissioners held an impromptu conference as the audience looked on. Afterward the Chair announced that the commission would give the UDC sixty days to accept the return of Old Joe. He added that if the offer was accepted the UDC would be responsible for all moving expenses and must complete the move within sixty days of acceptance. One commissioner that voted to remove the statue had previously announced that he would not allow the county to spend a single dime to move the memorial. He would rather it be destroyed.

Although Nansea was relieved for one last chance to save Old Joe her chapter had less than $1,000 in the bank. Given the security requirements and care required to safely relocate so old a structure, she worried that the task was too difficult. The next morning, however, she began to get supportive phone calls and emails. Many previously silent sympathizers recognized her from earlier Old Joe hearings before the commission and other local organizations during the preceding two years.

One phone call from a Vietnam vet lit a fire in her heart. He explained that the American soldier’s creed requires that a warrior “never leave a fallen comrade.” He told Nansea, “That’s how I see Old Joe’s situation. You are rescuing him. He is a veteran and I cannot leave him fallen on the ground to be scrapped.  I will send you money.” Realizing that many older Americans now cringe with shame at how they treated returning Vietnam vets in the 1960s and 70s, Nansea reasoned that the same might apply to Old Joe in the years ahead.

Thereafter she took every phone call and replied to every email. Many originated beyond Florida’s borders, including states above the Mason-Dixon Line. She took suggestions such as creating a FaceBook page and a GoFundMe Internet site. But she never directly asked for money. It started arriving anyway. She mobilized the UDC chapter members to send a hand-written “thank you” note to every donor. On July 20, 2017 she notified the county commission: “We [the UDC chapter] accept the Confederate Soldier Statue.”

Her laconic acceptance prompted repeated media inquiries that included national organizations such as The Washington Post and National Public Radio. She took the phone calls but politely declined to be interviewed or quoted. “Why?” asked one NPR reporter. “An interview would add publicity to help you raise money required to move the statue.”

“That’s true,” said Nansea, “but it might also attract unwanted attention. My job is to get Old Joe safely moved. I don’t want publicity that might trigger vandals.”

By mid-August the Gainesville UDC had raised $30,000 and secured a site for Old Joe on private property near a cemetery that contained the bodies of some Confederate veterans. The county attorney required Nansea to sign a twelve-page agreement that held the UDC chapter liable for any damages caused by Old Joe’s removal. Her group was also responsible for security in the event of interference from protestors.

Unfortunately, violent anti-Joe demonstrators were a genuine threat. They realized that the county government would not protect the memorial. As a result, they eagerly awaited the day of the move when they assumed the media would be present. But Nansea fooled them. In the days leading up to the move she organized theatrics in which volunteers pretended to be dissembling Old Joe but did little actual work. Rain arrived on the true moving day. It was enough to keep the protestors away until the moving crew was ready to drive off.

Although a dubious zeitgeist drove Old Joe from public property, his valor remains intact. The Kirby Smith Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy rescued it.

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Wikipedia on Post Civil War Voter Disfranchisement

(January 27, 2019) The Three 1867 Reconstruction Acts passed over President Andrew Johnson’s vetoes famously gave voting rights to all black adult males in ten of the eleven former Confederate states. Tennessee was excluded because it already had a Republican puppet regime and was the first state to allow significant numbers of blacks to vote.

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Less well known, however, is that the Acts also started a trend toward denying votes to former Confederates. The disfranchisement of former Confederates came in two waves.

The first wave was triggered by the second of the three Reconstruction Acts. Voters in the ten applicable states were ordered to elect delegates to state conventions that were to form new constitutions for new governments. Once written, those constitutions had to be approved by Congress. The second Act stipulated how voters for convention delegates would be registered. All adult black males were to be registered. But about 150,000 white males were denied registration because they were formerly connected in specified ways to the Confederacy. Consequently, the first white disfranchisement wave resulted in 703,000 black registrations and only 627,000 white registrations, even though whites were a decided majority of the population.

The second wave of white voter disfranchisement resulted from adoption of the applicable constitutions, or acts by the legislatures of the newly formed Republican vassal governments. That wave was concentrated in the states of the upper South where blacks represented a smaller share of the population as compared to the Gulf states. Consider the examples of Arkansas and South Carolina.

Since only 25% of Arkansas’s population was black, in order to insure that it would remain in power the state’s 1868 Carpetbag constitution disfranchised additional former Confederates beyond those already denied the vote by the Second 1867 Reconstruction Act. In contrast, since blacks composed the majority of South Carolina’s population that state’s Carpetbaggers declined to disfranchise additional ex-Confederates 

I am unaware of estimates concerning how many whites were disfranchised in the second wave, but the numbers were significant enough to tip the balance of power toward the Carpetbag governments in the pertinent states. Even though border states like Missouri were not required to form new constitutions, the Missouri Republican state government also disfranchised many former Confederates.

Perhaps one reason the post Civil War white voter disfranchisement in the South is little known is because Wikipedia has no article about it. In contrast, Wikipedia does provide this article about black voter disfranchisement in the South that happened between 1890 and 1902. As usual, when it comes to topics with political overtones, Wikipedia editors evidently require that articles conform to the viewpoints of the mainstream media and/or academic elite . . .  and that includes ignoring topics that are not germane to accepted grievance groups.

Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next. — William Inge

Why Didn’t Blacks Get Post-War Southern Lands?

(January 22, 2019) In today’s politically correct environment most academic historians lament that post Civil War Reconstruction failed to confiscate large amounts of land owned by Southern Whites and redistribute it to Blacks. This, they argue, would have given economic power to the Freedmen thereby minimizing the ensuing protracted racism. The chief reason Northerners failed to do so, they explain, was because Northerners chose to be lenient with the defeated Southerners. But they were not lenient, as this speech about my Southern Reconstruction book documents.

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In truth, the chief reason Northerners didn’t want to confiscate Southern lands was because they worried such action might adversely impact the national economy after the War ended in 1865. Since they rightly feared that a drop in wartime spending might cause a recession, they wanted the Southern economy to recover as quickly as possible, although they were unwilling to invest any federal tax money to help it along. As feared, America’s Gross Domestic Product declined 23% from $10 billion in 1865 to $7.7 billion in 1871. But during the same period annual cotton production alone increased from zero to 4.4 million bales, which about equaled the average annual production for the three years prior to the War. Southern production of tobacco and other goods and services also increased. Thus, without the South’s recovery the national GDP would have declined even farther.

Aside from the GDP, however, Northerners were anxious to get cotton back into production in order to improve the nation’s trade balance-of-payments, which threatened to be in almost perpetual deficit. As the table below documents, cotton alone accounted for about 70% of American exports before the War and for the decade after the War it represented an accumulated average of 61%. Notwithstanding that tariffs on dutiable items increased from 19% before the War to an average of 45% for nearly fifty years afterward, America reported a merchandise trade deficit for every year except two during the first eleven years after the War. The accumulated deficit for that period totaled $750 million. Without cotton exports the deficit would have been nearly $3,600 million, which was more gold than the Treasury had available to settle the international payments shortage.

 

The above figures underscore one reason why the Republican Party chose to abandon the Carpetbag regimes in the former Confederate states. Starting in 1872, and increasingly thereafter, Republicans became persuaded that the national economy would do better with White “home rule” state governments in the South in place of the Carpetbag regimes whose corruption was perceived as a drag on the region’s economic recovery.

Did Ulysses Grant Own and Rent Slaves?

(January 19, 2019) Even among the most Grant-partial historians there’s no denying that Ulysses Grant and his wife owned slaves prior to the Civil War. In fact, “Ulysses Grant” is the correct answer to a crafty American history trivia question that asks: “Can you name the last slaveholding President?”

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As growing political correctness causes our culture to increasingly condemn historical figures connected with slavery, Grant supporters are scrambling for explanations to exempt him from denunciation. Foremost among these are his role in defeating the Confederacy and his (suspect) advocacy for minority civil rights during his presidency. But Grant fans also try to explain away his pre-war participation in the slave economy. Here are the facts:

When Grant married Julia Dent in 1848 he wedded into a slave owning family whose patriarch was Frederick Dent. In 1850 Dent owned about thirty slaves including eighteen on his White Haven farm near St. Louis. After resigning from the pre-Civil War army, Grant moved to the St. Louis area to earn a living as a private citizen in 1854. His first attempt was at farming during which he used a number of the Dent slaves to fell trees, plant crops and build a house for his family.

Although not one of Grant’s the above photo is of a Missouri slave in 1858.

Following the death of his wife, Frederick Dent moved into the town of St. Louis in 1857 and rented 450 acres of White Haven to Grant. In 1858 Grant wrote his sister, “I have now three negro men, two hired by the year and one of Mr. Dent’s, which, with my own help, I think, will enable me to do my farming pretty well.”

At some point during Grant’s time at White Haven he purchased a slave named William Jones from his father in law. Later Grant gave up on farming and in the spring of 1859 moved the family into St. Louis where four slaves that had been given to Julia by her father served him. The next year Grant gave up on St. Louis altogether and moved his family to Galena, Illinois where he worked in one of his father’s tannery shops.

The year before the move to Galena in 1860, Grant emancipated William Jones, “for divers[e] good and valuable considerations.” Although “good and valuable considerations” is a legal expression that can include money among other factors, every Grant biography I’ve read assumes that Jones did not even partially purchase his freedom but was instead given it.

Beyond the above facts many Grant supporters excuse his connections to slavery with at least three mitigating points.

One. They emphasize that Grant emancipated William Jones whereas he could have sold him for perhaps $700. Grant, they argue, would never sell slaves.

But other evidence suggests that he might. One example is Hamlin Garland’s “Grant’s Life in Missouri” article from Volume 8 (November 1896 – April 1897) of McClure’s magazine. Garland summarized the recollections of St. Louis newspaper owner George Fishback:

All of Captain Grant’s associations and (apparent) sympathies at that time [1854-1860], says Mr. Fishback, were pro-slavery in character. . . .  He said: “I know something of the leather business, and I think I can do better up in Galena with my brothers.” He then asked me if I would buy or hire one of his house servants. She was an excellent woman, he said, and had been in the family some time, but as she was a slave he could not take her North . . .  He at last turned them over to John F. Long in security for a small indebtedness, and the slaves finally fell back into the possession of Colonel [Frederick] Dent.

Two. In a recent online forum discussion Grant supporters insisted that the two “hired” blacks mentioned in Grant’s letter to his younger sister were paid by Grant for their work. The forum participants mostly relied upon Ron Chernow’s recent hagiography as evidence. Without citing a source, Chernow wrote that “Grant hired two black men” to work for him at White Haven.

The forum members—and perhaps Chernow—were apparently unaware that surplus slave labor was commonly “hired out” by slaveholders. When so informed one replied that Grant was too high principled to ever “rent human beings.” Yet it is more likely than not that the two blacks were slaves, which means that Grant paid their owners, although he might have added supplemental payments to the workers directly.

First, slave rental agreements typically used language such as “hired out” as Grant did in his letter to his sister. Additionally, the letter states that the two men were hired out for a year, which was a time period consistent with field hands who were slaves.

Second, when contemplating a move to one of his dad’s Kentucky businesses late in 1859, Ulysses was undeniably disposed to rent one of Julia’s slaves if his dad did not want him to take the boy to Kentucky. Specifically in a letter to his dad he wrote: “I can leave him [the slave] here  [St. Louis] and get about three dollars per month for the boy, and more as he gets older.”

Third, in “Slavery at White Haven” the National Park Service U. S. Grant National Historic Site concludes, “Grant and his family benefitted from the labors of more than William Jones, however, including numerous enslaved people owned by Colonel Dent and others hired from local slaveholders.”

Fourth, according to Eric Swanger’s “Grant and His Single Slave”:  “In 1857, Grant took over management of the Dent plantation, and now had all of the slaves under [his] authority. Because most of the slaves were not field hands, two additional slaves had to be rented from their nearby owners.”

Three. Contrary to popular plantation imagery, Grant worked alongside the field hands he supervised. While that was true, it was not exceptional. Most any slaveholder throughout the South that worked only three field hands labored alongside them.

Should statues of Grant be among those destroyed because of their connection to slavery?

Sources: Slavery at White Haven, National Park Service; Ronald C. White, American Ulysses, 128;  Ulysses Grant, Letters of Ulysses Grant to His Father and Younger Sister7, 11-12;  Eric Swanger, General Grant and His Single Slave; Hamlin Garland, “Grant’s Life in Missouri,” McClure’s Magazine, Volume 8, 520; Ron Chernow, Grant, 101

California is Not Who “They” Are

(January 18, 2019) Senator Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are among the leading politicians urging slack regulation of illegal immigration. Since the stance is popular in their home state of California they seek every opportunity to publicly express the opinon that strict immigration enforcement is immoral. They proclaim that it is inconsistent with traditional American values with pontificating phrases such as “it is not who we are as Americans.”

In truth, however, California has a long history of attempting to prevent impoverished laborers from migrating to their state. Moreover, their traditional hostility toward such workers even includes other Americans as well as foreigners. As far back as 1860 California enacted a law that made it a crime to bring anyone known to be indigent into the state. Even if the person was from another state of the United States, it was a California crime to bring him, or her, into the state. The state’s applicable pauper law was eventually challenged toward the end of the Great Depression. As narrated in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, that was a period when many impoverished Southerners from such states as Oklahoma and Arkansas moved to the San Joaquin Valley to pick fruit and vegetables at wages that were beneath the dignity of regular Californians.

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Specifically, in 1939 a California resident named Edwards travelled to Texas to collect his unemployed brother-in-law, named Duncan. After Edwards returned to California with Texas-resident Duncan, Edwards was arrested for violating the pauper law and sentenced to six months in jail. His lawyers appealed the case, which eventually landed in the United States Supreme Court. They argued that California’s action was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and other provisions.  They further argued  the the law’s true purpose was to prevent migrants of other states from becoming California voters because such voters were likely to oppose the state’s restrictive  domestic migration laws.

In 1941 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled 9-to-0 against California in Edwards v. People of the State of California. It ruled that no state could prevent any American citizen from crossing any state border merely because he, or she, was poor. Nor could any state deny such persons the opportunity to become residents of the destination state merely because they were poor.

But Californians did not limit their attempted exclusionary laws to impoverished Southerners. During the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries they did everything they could to minimize the growth of their Asian-American population. Since they objected to the Amendment’s birthright citizenship provision, Californians did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment until 1959, which was ninety-one years late. Put bluntly, they did not want Asian-American babies born in the USA to become citizens. Also in the late nineteenth century Californians advocated a number of federal laws—collectively known as the Chinese Exclusion Acts—as a way of reducing California’s Asian-American population. They succeeded. Chinese-Americans could not even become naturalized citizens until 1943.

A more complete analysis of California’s discrimination against Asian-Americans is provided in my June 2018 blog post titled “Today’s Echo of a Reconstruction Era Controversy.”

Show Me More Than Portnoy’s Complaint

(January 14, 2019) Author and University of Sydney (Australia) professor Sal Babones is a New Jersey native with a PhD from John Hopkins and a 1991 undergraduate degree from Alabama’s Montevallo University. During an interview he draws on his experience to observe:

In Alabama people had to reckon with racism. They knew they had a racist past and they were sensitive about it. Whereas in the North there is much more casual racism. That’s because in the North everyone can say, “[Since] I’m a Northerner, of course I’m not a racist.”

White Southerners have been coming to terms with their racist past for at least seventy years. Most anyone wanting to leave Confederate statues in place is as much aware of that past as they are of typical Confederate soldier’s driving motivation to defend his homeland. Perhaps the most influential voices that led them to a racial reckoning were fellow white Southerners who were brave enough to criticize their own society at a time when such criticism outraged some neighbors.

Examples include William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Carson McCullers who criticized Southern racism before the 1964 Civil Rights Act through novels such as Intruder in the DustTo Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Even Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote in the afterward acknowledgments of the second volume of his three volume Civil War narrative released in 1961:

. . . I am also obligated to the governors of my native sate [Mississippi] and the adjoining states of Arkansas and Alabama for helping to lessen my sectional bias by reproducing in their actions during the several years that went into the writing of this volume, much of what was least admirable in the position my forebears occupied when they stood up to Lincoln.

Alabama’s Joe David Brown is perhaps the least celebrated of all the early racially sensitive Southern novelists. His Stars in My Crown for grade school students was written in 1947 and produced as a movie in 1950. Next came Kings Go Forth in 1956, which became a movie in 1958 staring Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood. Sinatra and Curtis play two World War II soldiers who fall in love with a French girl whose deceased father was black. Sinatra plays the “good guy” from New Jersey while Curtis plays the “bad guy” from Mississippi. It was Hollywood that cast Wood as the racially blended lover. Although Brown’s final novel had less racial commentary, 1971’s Addie Pray is a humorous Depression-era tale of a wandering Southern ne’er-do-well’s con games in the company of his grade school daughter. Hollywood lost much of the humor when it changed the title to Paper Moon and the location to Kansas in Peter Bogdonovich’s 1973 movie.

Nonetheless, as the famous magazine cover pictured above suggests, New Yorkers are just as prone to sectionalism as are Southerns. Yet I am unaware of any literature by Gotham area residents that reflectively challenges their own erroneous perspectives, particularly of Southerners. For example, notwithstanding that they represented 60% of the region’s population after the Civil War, Eric Foner’s Reconstruction textbook ignores the experience of white Southerners except to portray them as perpetrators of violence and discrimination against blacks. He shows little comprehension for the protracted poverty that affected both blacks and whites of the former Confederacy. Getting an Ivy League education was merely a matter of a different subway stop for Dr. Foner by comparison to what it took for a white Southerner of his age to get one.

Similarly, if Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint is a valid indicator, the introspective novels of New Yorkers show no appreciation—or even awareness—of other American cultures. Roth’s protagonist looks inwardly only to reconcile his elevated self-image with his shame about sexual obsessions. Although humorous, the novel actually amplifies the main character’s provincialism by treating sexual conflicts as if they were unique to his culture.

To document that New Yorkers are capable of critical self examination, show me more than Portnoy’s Complaint. Before demanding that Confederate statues be destroyed, show me books in which New Yorkers—and Northerners—examine their own faults and misperceptions about Southerners. Show me Northern authors who are brave enough to criticize their neighbors for demeaning white Southerners. Interested blog readers are invited to use the comments section to provide examples of such literature.