Author Archives: Phil Leigh

When the Left Criticized Carpetbaggers

(August 16, 2019) It’s little exaggeration to say that today’s politically progressive culture condemns historical white Southerners as a benighted people, morally inferior to other Americans. Such remarks are obvious in the articles and comments sections of online discussion forums as well as leading newspapers. It’s one reason why cultural elites demand that Confederate statues and symbols be removed, or “contextualized” to reveal white Southern racism and simultaneously imply the Northerner’s moral superiority for freeing the slaves and promoting black suffrage. Nonetheless,  there was a time when political progressives regarded Reconstruction Era Southerners as victims of injustice instead of perpetrators. Similarly, earlier left-wingers realized that President Grant’s administration was more a cesspool of corruption than a beacon of a nineteenth century civil rights awakening.

One example was economic historian Matthew Josephson (1899-1978) who was as much respected as any progressive from 1935-1965. Some historians at leading colleges considered his works to be required-reading in American history classes. Politically progressive magazines such as The New RepublicThe Nation and The New Yorker readily published his articles. His most famous book, The Robber Barons (1934), chronicled Gilded Age corruption, which he regarded as an inevitable conseqeunce of unregulated capitalism.

The Politicos (1938) was his exposé on the symbiotic relationship between the law makers and Robber Barons that created government policies favoring capitalists at the expense of laborers and farmers. Unlike today’s leftists, however, he realized that the Carpetbag regimes were a consequence of one such policy that ultimately victimized all Southerners. As a result, he concluded that Reconstruction Era Republicans had little genuine interest in the welfare of ex-slaves. “That the Negro masses . . . were lured by the promise of freedom and power to preserve the fruits of the Civil War for Northern capitalists, and were so monstrously betrayed, is one of the most extraordinary maneuvers in all the annals of bourgeois class politics. . .”

Josephson understood that Republicans gave suffrage to the ex-slaves for two reasons. First, was to gain control of the Congress and the Presidency. They reasoned correctly that such an inexperienced and uneducated electorate could be manipulated to convert the former Confederate states into a Republican stronghold. Second, was to serve the interests of powerful capitalists who would provide the political donations required for the Party to retain control nationally.

As soon as Congress convened after Appomattox,  Republicans held hearings to frame a new constitutional Amendment that would “ostensibly establish civil rights for the freedmen. In reality they sought an Amendment, which they privately admitted ‘would be a means for protection of the government and the North,’ that is to say, the Republican Party.”

The result was the Fourteenth Amendment which made freedmen citizens and gave them voting rights in the South, but not the North. “Ostensibly a humanitarian measure . . . the Fourteenth Amendment was understood only many years later as ‘the Magna Charta of accumulated wealth and organized capital.’ By interpreting the word ‘person’ in the juristic sense of ‘corporation’ . . . the Supreme Court was able . . . to depart from a policy of noninterference with State legislators and embrace the doctrine that it was ‘charged with the high duty of reviewing all and every kind of economic legislation by the states.'” In short, the Fourteenth Amendment caused the individual states to lose the power to regulate any business engaged in interstate commerce. Thus, America’s biggest businesses were beyond the regulatory reach of any state.

Josephson summarizes the Era:

The politicians of those stormy years of Reconstruction were . . .  literally Jekylls and Hydes. As Dr Jekyll, with a generous impulse they swept away the feudal, landed order of the South; as Mr. Hyde they deliberately delayed the recovery and restoration of the conquered states, whose economy languished during many years of disorder; imposed military rule and established . . . Carpetbag local governments which were subject to the central Republican Party Organization at Washington and paid tribute to the same. As Dr. Jekyll, they stirred the masses of voters to their support by use of a humane and libertarian ideology; as Mr Hyde . . . they worked to implant in the covenant of our society safeguards to property and capital which might hold against all future assaults.

Despite his impeccable leftwing credentials, Josephson concluded that the Ku Klux Klan was an unsurprising consequence of Republican Reconstruction because former Confederates had no other way to oppose the corrupt Carpetbag regimes. The vassal governments controlled state elections by way of black suffrage, voter disfranchisement of ex-Confederates and control of election returning boards that always tallied results in favor of Republican candidates. Anyone objecting to such policies was smeared as an ally of ex-Confederate enemies, “denounced in the name of patriotism and reminded that the Republican Party had won the war and saved the Union.” To the loyal veterans the Party gave increasingly generous pensions and to the western farmers homesteads on “free soil”—meaning lands free of black residents.

Following Grant’s 1868 election, army commanders of the military districts into which the Southern States had been divided began to  administer the so-called ironclad oath; only by swearing that he had held no office nor taken up arms under the Confederacy could any citizen hold office in the “reconstructed” government. Thus the Carpetbag or Scalawag governments, as agents of the Republican Party largely, were set up.  In reaction, the whites turned to passive or secret resistance, to violence and terror. . . With the abolition of the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1872 . . . the colored people sank again into tenancy or sheer peonage upon the land, an outcome that concerned the party of Lincoln almost in no way after 1876. The Negro had been “used” by the party of the North, and was abandoned, as [black historian] DuBois holds, when he was no longer needed.

Notwithstanding the myths of its noble origins, Josephson realized that the post-war Republican Party was overrun with corruption. “For two decades after the war the Republican Party was a mighty patronage organization, deriving revenue from the sale of offices and assessments upon the wages of its army of placeholders. It received additional handsome endowments from leading bankers and industrial capitalists who needed its services. . .” By recognizing the power of such “parasitic rings” of politicos Josephson basically identified the prototype of the Deep State of federal employees that many believe control our federal government presently, regardless of presidential election outcomes.

Unlike modern hagiographers such as Ron Chernow who praise Ulysses Grant as the greatest civil rights President between Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson, Josephson recognized that Grant’s motives merely reflected those of his fellow Republicans to use the black vote as a tool for keeping the Party in power until it no longer needed them. Moreover, Josephson was doubtful of Grant’s morality. “Grant accepted gifts, vast gifts, and rewarded the donors with offices. The Presidency had become a ‘perquisite’; . . . He surrounded himself with a ring of military officers who attempted to rule the country with unspeakable arrogance.”

Presumably in return for support to free Cuba from Spanish rule, War Secretary General John Rawlins was found to be holding $28,000 in bonds from Cuba’s provisional independent government after his death early in the Grant’s Administration. Rawlins’ successor, General William Belknap, later resigned in order to avoid impeachment for bribery. As Grant’s private secretary General Orville Babcock negotiated a potentially personally lucrative treaty for the United States to annex the second largest Caribbean island (Santo Domingo) without consulting Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. He was also involved in two later scandals concerning tax evasion in the distilled spirits industry and corrupt public spending in Washington, D. C. before Grant gave him a sinecure that required frequent travel far from of Washington.

Finally, Josephson concludes that Grant’s White House successor, Republican Rutherford Hayes, was likely elected fraudulently. Democrat Samuel Tilden needed to win only one of three disputed Southern states. The probable recount results in Florida and South Carolina were a toss-up, but the Tilden-favorable 9,000 vote margin in Louisiana (108,000-to-99,000) was nearly ten percent of Democrat votes.

Supported by Republican, “visiting statesmen” not to mention regiments of federal soldiers, the [Republican controlled] Louisiana Election Returning Board proceeded to accept the testimony of perjures, thieves and prostitutes and to throw out the ballots of whole parishes until over 13,350 Democratic votes were cancelled and a Hayes majority of over 4,000 was produced. . . A fait accompli had been registered. An unquestioned defeat had been turned into a legally doubtful case, whose merits must thereafter be determined by a predominantly Republican Government [in Washington.]

In sum, even though Josephson was a leading-edge political progressive between 1935 and 1965, he put most of the blame for the failure of Reconstruction on the selfish actions of the Republican Party. In contrast, modern leftists like Eric Foner suggest that the term “Carpetbagger” should be banished because they teach that the Republican vassal regimes were more good than bad.

Readers may learn more about Reconstruction from two of my books: U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency and Southern Reconstruction

Obsessing Over Stupid Stuff

(August 15, 2019) Although Hong Kong officially became a part of China in 1997, the Communist regime granted the former British colony a fifty-year charter to be governed locally with mostly Western economic and political rights. Thus, during the past twenty-two years Hong Kong has continued be a political and economic role model for Asia.

Now, however, the Communists want greater control evidently to silence critics of the Beijing regime. If enacted, Beijing’s request that Hong Kong provide for criminal extraditions to the mainland could subject dissidents to the tyranny of the mainland’s politicized courts. Consequently, in crowds as large as one million, Hong Kong residents have been protesting the extradition proposals. Moreover, they are waving the American and British flags as symbols of the freedoms they value.

Flags of Hong Kong Residents Protesting Against Possible Growing Communist Influence in their local government.

Unfortunately, too many Westerners who live under such freedoms fail to appreciate them. Instead, they condemn the Western heritage that brought them to us. Christians and white males are falsely dismissed as privileged bigots. Trivial matters such as politically correct pronouns, trigger warnings and college safe spaces are enforced to the point of tyranny. Demonizing historical Confederates and destroying their statutes is elevated to a bogus holy crusade for those who make a religion of imagined victimhood.  

The fact that Hong Kong demonstrators wave the Stars-and-Stripes and the Union Jack, should be a wake-up call to those who mostly complain about British and American defects. Chief among them are many of the cultural elite in the media, Hollywood and academia who tyrannically censor anyone who challenges their totalitarian methods of silencing dissent. In contrast, Hong Kong protestors realize fundamental truths about Western Civilization that many critics can’t see. Among them are:

  1. America is not racist.
  2. America is not misogynist.
  3. America is not homophobic.
  4. America is not xenophobic.
  5. On the whole, our historical white male leaders did a good job.
  6. Western culture provides a role model for success.
  7. We Americans and British should appreciate our freedoms.

Nobody can be happy who perpetually believes she is a victim. Thus, the victimology olympics created of identity politics is a great evil. While some of us can imagine ourselves to be social justice heroes by tearing down Confederate symbols, others can focus on attempting meaningful achievements in the free society that we inherited and that Hong Kong residents want to emulate.

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Refuting The Tariff Debunkers

(August 14, 2019) During the past thirty years most modern historians claim that slavery was the overwhelming cause of the Civil War. They increasingly insist that the South’s opposition to protective tariffs was a minimal factor, even though such tariffs were specifically outlawed in the Confederate constitution. One outspoken historian annalist writes:

One of the most egregious of the so-called Lost Cause narratives suggests that it was not slavery, but a protective tariff that sparked the Civil War.

On 2 March 1861, the Morrill Tariff was signed into law by outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan. . . A pernicious lie quickly formed around the tariff’s passage, a lie suggesting that somehow this tariff had caused the US Civil War. By ignoring slavery’s central role in precipitating secession and Civil War, this tariff myth has survived in the United States for more than a century and a half – and needs to be debunked once and for all.

To begin, the annalist fails to note that antebellum tariffs accounted for about ninety percent of federal revenues, even though most of his comrades readily conceded the point. Thus, tariff policy was as important to antebellum Americans as federal tax policy is to us today.

Beyond that, the “debunker” falls into three traps that often entangle his fellow McPherson-Blight-Foner acolytes.

First, he equates the causes of Southern secession with the causes of the Civil War. But they are not the same. The North could have let the initial seven cotton states leave in peace as many leaders such as Horace Greeley, Edwin Stanton and future President Rutherford Hayes were willing to do. There was no danger that the South would invade the North. War came only after the North decided to invade the initial seven cotton states.  Thus, discovering the War’s causes requires an analysis of the North’s reasons for wanting to coerce the South back into the Union instead of the reasons the South seceded. The true goal that prompted Northerners to invade the South was to avoid the economic consequences of disunion.

Since the Confederate constitution outlawed protective tariffs, her lower tariffs would confront the remaining states of the truncated Union with two consequences. First, the federal government would lose much of its tax revenue since articles imported into the Confederacy would divert tariff revenue from the North to the South. Second, and even more importantly, a low Confederate tariff would cause Southerners to buy more manufactured goods from Europe as opposed to the Northern states where prices were inflated by protective tariffs. In 1866, for example, railroad iron sold for $80 a ton in New York but only $32 in England due to American protective tariffs.*

Second, although most modern historians concede that the South traditionally opposed high tariffs, they argue that the rates were too low in 1861 to provoke a War, even if increased. Such arguments typically compare customs duties in 1860 to earlier years but ignore their steep and protracted rise during and after the War. Nonetheless,  the victors’ conduct after Appomattox better reveals their true motives for militarily subjugating the South than does their dishonest rhetoric before the fighting began. 

On the  eve of the Civil War rates on dutiable items averaged 19% but thereafter averaged about 45% until Democrat Woodrow Wilson became President fifty years later in 1913.  Although Wilson reduced rates, Republicans re-uped them after regaining control of the federal government in the 1920s. The GOP did not welcome free trade until after 1945 when the region north of the Ohio and Potomac rivers had virtually no competition anywhere since the economies of Europe and Asia had been wrecked by World War II.

Third, modern historians generally fail to consider the adverse impact of import tariffs on domestic industries that export most of their output. There is no better example than American cotton, which normally exported 75% of its crop annually when the Civil War started. The dominant buyers were Great Britain and France, which typically obtained the exchange credits needed to buy American cotton by selling finished manufacture goods to the United States.  But high protective tariffs made it difficult for European manufactures to sell their goods competitively in the United States, as noted in the railroad iron example above.

That had two repercussions. One was to motivate European cotton buyers to seek new feedstock sources outside the United States. Thus, high domestic import tariffs invited other countries to compete with American cotton. Notable examples included Egypt, India and Brazil.  The other result was to force Europe to buy less American cotton than otherwise thereby shrinking the market for Southern farmers.

The consequences lasted at least seventy years. When commenting upon a multiyear decline in cotton exports in 1935 Assistant Treasury Secretary Oscar Johnston wrote, “The major cause of the decline is the inability of foreign consumers to obtain American exchange [currency.]” Southern farmers needed export markets, but what they got were American tariffs that drove their exports customers to seek other sources.**

In reality, the myth that needs debunking is that the North went to war to end slavery instead of to avoid the economic consequences of disunion.

*Ira Tarbell, The Tariff in our Times, (Norwood, Mass.: Macmillan, 1911), 31
**David L. Cohn, The Life and Times of King Cotton, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 238

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Sharecropper Stories

(August 12, 2019) David L. Cohn (1894-1960) grew up in Greenville, Mississippi as the son of Jewish immigrants. He graduated from the University of Virginia before earning a law degree at Yale and enlisting in World War I. His business career was in New Orleans and then New York as a retailing industry executive. In the 1950s he was also a speech writer for two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

Cohn authored about a half-dozen books, mostly involving life in the Mississippi Delta. His work is timely today due to his focus on race relations, which has become a modern obsession. He wrote with the detachment of an expatriate and member of a minority religious class. He published his first book, God Shakes Creation, when he was forty-one years old in 1935. The title was derived from a description of the Delta’s annual work cycle excerpted from a black preacher’s sermon in the early 1930s.

Gawd sends us his rain in de summertime so de cotton and corn will grow. De fall brings de cool of de evening. Snow drops from His shoulders in winter tell de mountaintops is covered and snow veils de face of de valley. De seeds dey sleeps in de ground and de birds dey stop dey singing. Den Gawd shakes creation in de spring.

Cohn explained that as late as the 1950s preachers were the natural leaders of Southern black communities. Perhaps that’s one reason Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy rose to prominence. The following edited excerpts are from God Shakes Creation and thereby narrate stories he probably learned between 1920 and 1935.

The preacher is the most important man in the rural black community. . . He is the one leader who might be a power for good. . . but is often an  influence for evil. . . Many black preachers in the Delta are ignorant and superstitious and at the same time shrewd and calculating.

Black women are preeminent in the church. It is they who raise the money. Without their aid no preacher can be successful. He must have charm for the women and marked sex appeal, in addition to the ability to arouse his congregation to emotional heights. I asked one such preacher to explain the qualities that made him successful. “Cap’n”, he said, “a black preacher ain’t got to have but two things—a bass voice an’ make the bedsprings moan.”

Many black preachers are rustic Machiavellis. In an effort to reconcile doctrine with behavior, I put this question to an eminent minister. “Elder,” I said, “how can you mess about with the sisters all week long and be a Christian man in the pulpit on Sunday?” Replying without hesitation he said, “Well, I tell you how dat is.” “If a Christian man goes to bed with a Christian lady, dat’s just like rubbing two clean sheets together: dey can’t soil each other.”

*     *     *

The Reverend Burr is one of the most successful preachers in the Delta. He is fat, eloquent, amiable, shrewd and diplomatic. If one of his colleagues had taken his advice, that man would still be a pastor with a big salary at a large church.

“It was this a-way,” the Reverend said. “We both had big congregations. I was married, but he wa’nt. My wife she’s mighty sharp, but she ain’t never goin’ to ketch up wid me. Well, I was kinder messin’ ’bout wid three or four sisters in my congregation and he was messin’ ’bout with four or five ladies in his. One day I say, “Brother, let’s git dis straight. I tell you what let’s do. You carry on wid de sisters in my congregation and I’ll carry on wid de sisters in yo congregation. Dat way won’t neither one of us git in no trouble.'”*

“Well, suh, do you know dat ing’ant black man wouldn’t pay me no min’. He kept messin’ ’bout wid de sisters. Den he goes up to St. Louis and marries him a woman. He brought her back here and de sisters th’ew him clean out of de church.”

The final edited episode happened in the 1940s and comes from Cohn’s Where I was Born and Raised. 

A big black man that answered to the name of Bear once worked on a plantation owned by a friend of mine. When Bear originally applied for the job, my friend asked Bear where he had worked before.

“Boss,” he said, “I used to work fer de Lowrence brothers. Dey levee contractors an’ dey de meanest white folks I ever se’ed. Dey kill a black man every Monday mawnin’, run de graders over him, an’ bury him right dere on de levee.

But my friend knew that the Lawrence brothers treated black workers fairly.  “Bear,” he asked, “Which of the Lawrence brothers was meanest?”

“Mr. Cholly Lowrance,” Bear replied. “He’d kill a black man jus’ like you’d stomp on a snake on de ground.”

Months later my friend was sitting on his porch when an automobile came to an abrupt stop in front of his house with a flat tire. By chance, the driver was Charley Lawrence. My friend summoned Bear to change the tire.

While Bear was fixing the car, my friend winked at Charley and asked Bear, “Bear, what was the name of the white folks you told me you used to work for?”

“De Lowrance brothers. Dey was de meanest folks on Arkansas. Dey kill a black man ev’y Monday mawnin and bury him right dere on de levee.”

“Who was the meanest brother?”

“Mr. Cholly Lowrance. He’d kill a black man like squashin’ mosquitoes.”

After Bear finished changing the tire the driver gave him a generous tip.

Then my friend asked, “Bear, do you know the name of this white gentlemen you’ve been changing a tire for?”

“Naw, suh,” said Bear. “I ain’t never se’ed him in my life.”

“Well,” said the planter, “he’s Mr. Charles Lawrence.”

The two white men stared at Bear, wondering how he would extricate himself from the trap he had fallen into. With lightning rapidity Bear turned a wide and gleaming smile on my friend and the car’s driver.

“Mr. Lowrance,” he said, “you is looking at the lyin’est black man in Arkansas.”

*Before the widespread availability of antibiotics during World War II, about 80% of adult blacks in the Delta lived with venereal disease.

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A Black Sharecropper’s Parable

(August 11, 2019) During the 1930s-40s African-Americans in the Mississippi delta near Greenville developed a parable to explain some of life’s mysteries. During that period blacks outnumbered whites in the region three-to-one and the economy was almost entirely dependent upon cotton farming. The parable is taken from—and uses the language provided in—Where I Was Born and Raised, by David L. Cohn. (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967)

*      *     *

Way back yonder in the beginnin’ of the world, Ole Adam an’ Miss Eve was livin’ on fawty acres of good bottom land the Lawd have give ’em. They didn’t have no boll weevil nor neither high water an’ they made a good crop every year. They had ’em own frying chickens because it wa’nt no preachers there to eat ’em. They had a fine garden full of mustard greens an’ rosenears an’ a house which didn’t never leak. Ole Adam had the best mules in the county: two bran’-new Studebaker wagons; an’ a pack of fine rabbit dawgs.

Miss Eve, she he’ped Ole Adam make the crop. She done the cookin’, washin’, an’ ironin’, an’ they got along mighty good. Hit wa’nt but one thing twixt ’em. Ole Adam liked to hunt an’ fish, and ever’time he could sneak-off, there he was chasin’ rabbits or lookin’ after his trotline. But that vexed Miss Eve ’cause when Ole Adam was away she got kinder lonesome, it not bein’ no folks for her to talk to. So one day she say, “Adam, don’t you git me some folks to talk to whilst you ‘way, I ain’t gwine to let you hunt an’ fish.

Ole Adam, he didn’t like that ’cause he loved to hunt ‘an fish mo’ than anything in the world. So he went off down the big road studdin’ what could he do ’bout hit, when here come the Lawd. The Lawd he give Adam hi-dy an’ Adam he give the Lawd hi-dy.

“Lawd,” say Ole Adam, “You sho’ been good to me. You give me fawty acres of good bottom lan’ an’ us makes a good crop all the time. You give me Miss Eve and she sho is a good woman. She he’ps make the crop, an’ does all the cookin’, ironin’, an’ washin’. But Lawd you knows I’m a man that’d druther hunt an’ fish than anything in this world o’ yourn. But Miss Eve say don’t I git her some folks to talk to whilst I’m ‘way, she ain’t gwine let me hunt an’ fish. Lawd, please suh, can’t you make some folks to keep that woman company?”

The Lawd say, “Adam, when does you want them folks made?” and Ole Adam he say, “Please suh, could you make ’em this evenin’?” So the Lawd got out his almanac—the one with the quarterin’ of the moons in it—to see if he have anything to do that evenin’, and when he didn’t he tole Ole Adam to meet him twarge sundown by the crick that got that good clay bank an’ he would make the folks.

Well, Ole Adam he was right there when the Lawd come up on his good saddlehorse, got off, and hitched him to a little persimmon tree. Adam handed the Lawd a heap o’ clay. He started kneadin’ it to make the folks an’ Ole Adam he cut some fresh green saplings for the framin’ work.

The Lawd he made some Hebrew chillun an’ some Christian chillun, some white chillun an’ some colored chillun, some A-rabs an’s some Chinermens. Then he put ’em all up by the fence rail an’ he say, “Now Adam you meet me right here soon after sun-up in the mawnin’. I’ll be back then to put some brains in these folks.”

Ole Adam he was right there at first daylight. But it wa’nt nothin’ there. All them folks done walked off before the Lawd come back, an’ they been multiplyin’ and replenishin’ the Earth ever since.

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