Sunday, March 22, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Nine


MANIFEST DESTINY'S DNA: SLAVERY, CONQUEST AND GENOCIDE. We are nearing the end of our journey through the remarkable book by Edward E. Baptist, 'The Half Has Never Been Told.' Chapter Nine, next to last, is titled 'Arms,' again with multiple meanings. The simplest one is the strong arms of Black slaves in building the South's railroads, for getting cotton to markets more efficiently.

But its also 'arms' as in the US military uses for expansion, successfully and unsuccessfully. Ethnic cleansing on Native peoples to secure land for new plantations was successful, as was the Mexican War, securing much of the Northern half of Mexico, were slavery had been abolished, for US enslavers.

It didn't stop there, however. There were numerous attempts to annex Cuba for slavery, plotted within the government rather openly. Then there were the entrepreneurial enslavers called 'filibusterers,' the original meaning of that term, who set out to take over nations south of the Rio Grande by armed coups. The most noted was William Walker, who tried to take over Nicaragua in 1956, and declared himself its president. Luckily, it failed and he was executed there. Our history often mentions 'Manifest Destiny' as a simple effort to extend the nation to the Pacific. But it rarely goes deeper into the reasons why, or the methods--expanding slavery and genocide.

Politically, things come to a head with two measures. First, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed Missouri to keep slaves, but allowed Kansas's new government to decide the matter for a population largely opposed to slavery. Missouri pro-slavery thuggish gangs by the thousands invaded and hijacked the politics. But the abolitionists fought back, most notably under John Brown, responding to the killing of 'free soilers' with the execution of pro-enslavers. 'Bloody Kansas' was really the opening of the Civil War. Brown was later thwarted at Harper's Ferry in Virginia, but his hanging served as a clarion call for wider resistance.

The second measure was the infamous Dred Scott decision by the Taney Supreme Court, declaring that African Americans had 'no rights whites were bound to respect,' and practically speaking, required every citizen to assist in slave-catching of runaway slaves everywhere, or be fined and jailed.

These led to the shattering of the two existing parties, Whigs and Democrats. Southern Democrats became secessionists; Northern Democrats were sympathetic, but opposed secession. The Whigs split several ways, North and South and otherwise, imploding. Lincoln's Whig grouping joined with Free Soilers and Liberty Party Advocates, and a mass social youth movement called the 'Wide Awakes', to form what would be a new 'First Party,' opposed to slavery's expansion, but not yet for abolition directly. The Enslavers saw that in practice, however, it meant their doom, and with Lincoln's election, they seceded and launched the armed attack on Fort Sumter. More to come.

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