Elephants … and coffee beans

Since my question, a few weeks ago, about the Civil War, I’ve found myself watching YouTube videos with the Civil War as the topic. The ‘ghosty’ ones are kind of eye-rolling silly but sometimes I find one that is interesting or has ‘facts’ that I’ve never heard and wonder about.

There are two blog sites I have found that seem to attract the best historians and Nebraska Energy Observer is one. I’m posting this video for various reasons – are these ‘facts’ real; does the information represent ‘settled’ knowledge about the War; do the ‘war dead’ numbers stack up against what has been written in our history books?

I’m looking forward to some lively debate on this video and the Civil War as a whole.

Remember that …

The question I posed about the Civil War? It gave our historians quite a bit to talk about and I learned so much from reading the comments.

I stumbled upon this just now and after watching, I thought of the historians here at Nebraska Energy and wondered what their take would be.

Without further ado, please enjoy this video. Oh … it starts out lame but go with it.

Cousins’ Wars

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Our last British flag and the flag raised on Jully 4th, 1776

Audre innocently opened up a big can of worms yesterday with her post about her friend and bringing up the Civil War. Is there anything in American history, more compelling than that war, its people and causes in American history? I don’t think so, from children to adults, even to American soldiers (with whom I have occasionally spent rewarding nights, and we were still going over eggs and beer for breakfast.

But the most amazing thing is that it often seems to affect the British the same way, even granting that Ken Burns is a most gifted storyteller. But why? Sure, it was important for both countries, but it’s deeper than that, so let’s back up a bit. My former co-blogger, Jessica, is English, well actually Welsh, and this post is one that talked about English speaking revolutions. I think it also has bearing on the present in both countries, as the same messages are stirring about.

So, to echo Audre, let’s see what you think.

Last spring in one of our posts commemorating the life of Maggie Thatcher, Jess said this:

Here I will raise hackles. Americans, being the product of a revolution, cannot be true conservatives. America owes its existence to a rebellion against lawfully constituted authority, so American and British Conservatism are bound to differ. Mrs Thatcher was, indeed, the closest Britain has produced to an American style Conservative, but she always was different to many in her party, and the fact that that is true today says nothing about her legacy and everything about the enduring deep-rootedness of native British Conservatism and its respect for the authority of the Crown.

Which didn’t sound quite right to me then, although I saw her point. It still doesn’t and today we’re going to talk about why, for maybe the very first time here, Jess was wrong. Not that we aren’t successors of revolutionaries, we are, and conservative ones at that. Lady Astor wasn’t all that far wrong when we said that the Revolution was fought by “British Americans against a German King for British ideals”.

The real problem with Jess’s statement is that so is she, every bit as much as we are. So if that means we can’t be true conservatives, neither can she, or any Briton.

Let’s work this out a bit.

The title comes from The Cousins’ Wars by Kevin Phillips, and I suspect this will turn into sort of an irregular series. A lot of what Phillips says is backed up by what Daniel Hannan, MEP says in his Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, those are the sources for most of this. Both of which I recommend highly especially Inventing Freedom.

What we are positing here is that the English Civil War (including the quasi-legal regicide) with its follow-on of the Glorious Revolution had exactly the same cause (and for the most part sides) as the second English Civil war (the one we call the American Revolution) and even pretty much the same players and thinking animated the American Civil War. By the time William and Mary were given the throne, it was pretty obvious that the monarch was the creation of Parliament.

Cromwell’s support (as did he) came most strongly from the Eastern Association, centered in East Anglia, and the borderlands of England and Scotland, which were also strangely, or not, where most of the strongest Patriots in the Revolution came from. In fact, many of their ancestors had returned to England to fight with Cromwell. From East Anglia came the dissenters who made up the Congregationalists of New England, and from the borderlands came the Scots-Irish (as we call them) and especially the low church Anglicans of Virginia. In many cases, these were second sons of the lower aristocracy who would not be inheriting the family estates because of primogeniture. This pattern persisted down through the American Civil War as well, and is greatly important in seeing how America became Britain intensified.

And in truth, the Revolution divided England in very much the same manner as it did the colonies. Hannan tells us:

In 1775, William Pitt the Elder proposed to repeal every piece of legislation that the American Patriots had found objectionable, beginning with the Sugar Act, and to recognize the Continental Congress as, in effect, as an American parliament, coequal with Britain’s

This would have been, essentially, Commonwealth status, and it would very likely have been accepted.

Not to put too fine a point on it though, this battle has been the one that made the Anglosphere the preeminent supporter of liberty in the world. Nor was it a new fight in the seventeenth century either. Tacitus tells us, in Hannan’s words:

The primitive German tribes, he wrote, were in the habit of deciding their affairs through open air clan meetings. Their chiefs were not autocrats, but governors by consent Their rule rested on auctoritas (the ability to inspire) rather than postestas (the power to compel). Their peoples were not subjects but free and equal participants in the administration of their affairs.

Feudalism overcame this in the eleventh and twelfth centuries all over Europe, except in Great Britain, Switzerland, and parts of Scandinavia. Even in England, it was dealt a nearly mortal blow in 1066. The wonderful stories of charters (including Magna Charta), the Peasant’s Revolt (which was certainly misnamed because there were no peasants in England) and all the rest is the story of the recovery of ancient rights and principles.

The other thing that has always struck me is this: What the French call “les anglo-saxons”, which is all of the core (UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), Anglosphere is different. In truth, for a great part we in the United States are wont to talk of “American Exceptionalism”, and it’s true enough. But a better term might be Anglosphere exceptionalism. Our revolutionaries have always operated on the old meaning of revolution, the one we use in engineering, to complete the revolution so that it is upright again. They have always been conservative, in American Constitutional terms: Originalist. Which is completely different from the French and Russian revolutions which sought to destroy the old order. We have always sought to restore.

And we still do


And yes, there will be several more of these, which are repeat posts from 2013 and 14. As we look over our parapets, or perhaps more cogently, peek between the drawn curtains in our house arrest, well such a life is both unEnglish and unAmerican,  and I doubt our peoples will submit very long, and any government that tries is very foolish, indeed.

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What Do You Think?

I have a dear, dear friend in England who is going through a very rough time right now. Add that to the ‘lockdown’ in England and it’s almost too much to bear. To ease her mind and distract her aching heart, she is watching the Ken Burns documentary Civil War. She shared this video with me this morning https://youtu.be/ZeYjtfsK338. I explained to her how sad it was, brother against brother and father against son but that without that war, we wouldn’t be the country we are now.

But I wonder; am I right? So I’ve come here to ask you that question. Would we be the America we are if the Civil War had never been fought? Thanks for your help – I’m looking forward to your replies.

Lincoln at Cooper’s Union

Steven Hayward over at PowerLine reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun, and also that Abraham Lincoln was a very wise man.

Lincoln noted toward the very end of the speech that the pro-slavery faction in the South wasn’t content with Republicans allowing slavery to exist in the South: it was necessary that everyone change their mind and express publicly their positive support for slavery. In other words, the pro-slavery forces demanded that everyone else submit to their opinion. Sounds like the left today on every social issue in sight, no?

Here’s the key language from the end of the Cooper Union address about the demand for uniformity of opinion:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly–done in acts as well as in wordsSilence will not be tolerated–we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’s new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I suspect that sounds very familiar indeed to my readers in both the US and the UK. I don’t think it’s going to happen anymore today than it did in 1860. So there is going to be a lot of anguish for them. Hopefully, they won’t act out as badly as their forebearers did in 1861.

Railsplitters, Tailors, and Government Bureaus

Speaking of the CFPB, this is interesting, from The Federalist.

Although the Reconstruction Era has gotten more mainstream attention lately, to most Americans the Andrew Johnson administration is still a part of the dusty past. The CFPB dispute is, as David Harsanyi explained earlier this week, about which employee has the right to occupy the office of CFPB director. So did the dispute that led to Johnson’s impeachment and near-conviction. Only in that case, the office in question was of much greater importance: secretary of war.

In the days following the Civil War, the secretary of war (a predecessor to the secretary of defense, but without jurisdiction over the navy) occupied an important position in domestic politics, as his job included presiding over the reconstruction of the conquered Confederacy. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his successor, Johnson, seemed to be in accord with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the Republican-dominated Congress on how to accomplish this.

Things soon changed. Johnson returned to his pre-war Democratic Party loyalty and worked to re-admit the Southern states to the Union quickly, with no other changes than a de jure abolition of slavery. Stanton and congressional leaders saw their task as larger, and wanted to ensure greater equality for the former slaves in fact as well as in law. As Johnson gradually replaced Lincoln appointees in the cabinet, Stanton was increasingly the only voice in the administration for a vigorous scheme of occupying and rebuilding in the South.

Stanton’s allies in Congress worked to protect him by passing the Tenure of Office Act in 1867. The act decreed that any officer appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate could not be removed by the president unless the Senate approved. Johnson saw the act for what it was—a curtailment of executive power—and vetoed it, but Congress overrode the veto and the bill became a law. The president no longer had control over his own appointees.

Johnson initially acted in accordance with the law and suspended Stanton while Congress was in recess, selecting Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant to serve as acting secretary in his stead. Stanton went along with this, as Grant was closer to congressional Republicans in his views than to Johnson. When the recess ended, the Senate refused to concur in Stanton’s removal, and Grant returned the office to him. Then Johnson declared the Tenure of Office Act unconstitutional and said Stanton’s removal was valid. He appointed Maj. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas to the “vacancy” and instructed him to report to the War Department for work.

Stanton refused to accept Thomas’s appointment and declined to yield the office. Thomas took the office across the hall, and both men declared themselves the true secretary of war. Stanton retained the keys to the office and did not leave the room, eating and sleeping there for months to prevent Thomas from seizing it.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted articles of impeachment against Johnson, specifically for his open violation of the law, but more generally for his obstruction of Congress’s plans for Reconstruction. The Senate fell one vote short of conviction, and Johnson remained in the White House. With Grant nominated for president and Johnson on the way out, Stanton gave up the fight and relinquished the office.

Rule Without Consequences

The stakes of the fight over the CFPB directorship are far lower, but the precedents of the Stanton-Thomas affair provide a guideline for how the current quarrel should proceed, both legally and politically.

The Tenure of Office Act of 1867 and the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, both aim at the same result: removing the power from the president to control members of his administration. The Tenure of Office Act’s authors were concerned with keeping Johnson from overturning Lincoln’s legacy. Dodd-Frank’s authors had a wider goal in mind: removing politics from government. This fits the general progressive belief that we would be better governed by unelected technocrats than by politicians who must take popular opinion into account.

It is a strange take on a republic, and at odds with the Founding Fathers’ opinions. They knew that the government would contain officers who wished to trample the people’s rights. It has been true of every government, elected or unelected, since mankind emerged from the state of nature. The government of the people, by the people, and for the people acknowledges that the people in question are all flawed. As James Madison famously wrote in Federalist 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Do read it all.

And, in fine, that was much of the point of the Constitution, to throw sand in the gears of the government.  The founders knew, even better than we do, the cry of the American to his government, “Leave me alone!”. After all they fought a war, against the greatest empire of the age for that very reason. But as long as men (and women) seek personal advantage from government (and that is until Christ returns) the vigilance of the citizens will always be required.

Ronnie was absolutely right about the most feared words in the language, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

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