By the end of the period of egalitarian illusion,
when wealth and deference and power
were as concentrated, at least in the original states,
as they ever were and would be,
a class of accomplished, dedicated agitators had grown up
in the Northeast, that went from target to target of the
many evils of the country, until, finally,
the largest, most consecrated group of all settled down
upon the issue of slavery.
When this occurred, a fatal commitment overcame them -
politicians, educated men and women, publicists,
fanatic undistinguished citizens, and ministers
- to engage in struggle by all means necessary against
an equally adamant resistant group of Southern
editors, lawyers, politicians and planters,
until the slaves should be freed.
Political agitators were never suffered gladly in America,
whatever their variety and number. They had to be tolerated
in many places. Then, with the flow of communications speeded up,
and enhanced, and the facilities of travel greatly expanded,
barbed arrows from Massachusetts drew blood in South Carolina.
Soaring statistics of the rapidly populating,
industrializing, foreign North sandpapered
the always tender sensibilities of the Southerners.
It is about time to talk of the Civil War, we sense,
but I would approach the subject by denying it
the neat encapsulation usually provided:
from the firing upon Fort Sumter in early 1861
to the surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse and elsewhere
in the Spring of 1865, conceded it has given a handy
frame for the myriad buffs and military men
who have made it the
world's most popular war game.
Speak as they will, with all the media in amplification,
of "brilliant tactics" and "heroic generals" who march
their soldiers up the hill and down again (with severe losses),
they only persuade me that the
Civil War's meaning has been swinging in too narrow a compass.
"God forbid," orated Senator Robert Y. Haynes to a
CongregationalChurch of Charleston in 1831,
"that the Union be now dissolved," but tyranny in the
new form it had assumed in Washington must be
resisted to the death.
Back of this pietist rhetoric was typical
paranoiac overreaction to high tariffs,
a paranoia that would assume plague proportions
with the human issue of slavery,
which insulted all basic values:
well-being, freedom, and justice, in their several parts.
Hence, I urge that we consider the Period from about
1830 to 1965 as three wars:
The first evolved and fought the slavery issue
by all intellectual, moral, political, propagandistic,
agitational, and terrorist means,
until the struggle escalated into
full-scale organized violence;
The second bloodier war dealt with the supply, management, and
conduct of combat operations until the formal surrenders.
Whereupon the third war took shape as
a prolonged period of sporadic violence,
disposition of surrendered resources,
the regaining of the resources by the rebels,
the struggle to provide and to block and erase
the liberties and opportunities of the African-Americans
and their Allies, continuing uninterrupted
for a full one hundred years ,
until there finally arrived, with the Civil Rights Act of 1965,
a point in time when the liberties and opportunities of
African-Americans, after seeming to have been hopelessly lost
became operational and ordinarily assured,
though with still a sick-making need for
constant vigilance and patrolling.
Countless millions of personal injuries had yet to be suffered,
to the endless disgrace of the United States.
The period began with one kind of federal law and ended with
another, so I am beginning and ending the 135-year "war" with a
discussion of the old and new federalism.
A concluding word begs to be spoken even before we begin:
the treatment of African-Americans - and to a lesser degree
because they were mobile, the Indian-Americans -
reduced the quality of life for
many millions of considerate White Americans
for over three hundred years. A
temporary relief was given by a supposedly victorious
war and legislation on behalf of the victims, but then the
shame resumed its gnawing upon the intelligent conscience.
Civically, religiously, politically, philosophically, materially,
Americans were living a lie, a big lie.
Only in the last third of the twentieth century could an American
feel reasonably confident that the processes of extending equal
opportunities and liberties to ordinary Blacks and Whites were
significantly operative. If a new happiness was not generally
felt, it may be because of the excessive ravages of history, and
because of the aforesaid myriad daily blows against
blacks and their (unequal) retaliations against whites.
As if the motley multi-hued population were white and black..