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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, December 18, 2006


And Also:Winding down on the Xmas gifts -- picked up a pack of Christmas tic tacs today. One big package yet to come in the mail. And, heck, it is supposed to be less than fifty degrees during the day soon.

Some time ago, I read a history of the Civil War (Battle Cry of Freedom) by James M. McPherson. A very good one volume account of the war, including an extended discussion of the era directly preceding it. JM wrote the forward to Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North by Jennifer L. Weber.

As a preliminary note, it seems like a questionable subtitle. "Copperheads" (dangerous snakes) aka "Peace Democrats" were really only one part of Lincoln's Northern opposition, which quite arguably included many Republicans. After all, Lincoln's opponent in the 1864 elections -- another symbol of how our basic institutions can continue during wartime -- was George McClellan, who was not really a Copperhead. Second, especially given their appeals to the "Crittenden Compromise" (a hopeless attempt to stave off war by in effect agreeing to the platform of Southern Democrats), there seemed to be a connection to the Constitutional Union Party. The appeal to the old Constitution, or the one they idealized with a racist tinge at that, as a solution to things also seemed like a connection. Unfortunately, the book only briefly referenced this failed attempt to supply another option in 1860.*

[A recent book discussing the Dred Scott Case made the argument that it would have been appropriate for a calculating moderate to vote C-U in 1860. Republicans were too radical and sectional as were Southern Democrats, while Douglas Democrats had their own problems -- including troubling manifest destiny sentiments regarding places like Cuba. Now, one might think -- shudder -- that voting Republican seemed logical to all right minded Yankee sorts. And, all that secessionist talk in the past seemed to be mostly hot air. But, was not 1860 different? Who knew what a war would wrought!

OTOH, the C-U option would have been a moderate path, accepting things as they were, realizing change came slowly. The fact three percent of the North voted for them, however, suggested avoiding the core issue of the day simply was not possible. And, they supported divisive things like a slave code in the territories while campaigning in the South, which also didn't much care for their position. As Lincoln noted at Cooper Union, simple appeals to the Constitution to an almost pabulum degree simply was not workable at the time.]

The book as a whole was a short (a bit over two hundred pages with a good amount of pictures) account, especially tossing in various "meanwhile in the war" segments, which kept us up to date on ongoing military exploits. Obviously, since "peace" Democrats are involved, such things are important. Overall, it was a decent book -- I was a bit disappointed that it was not a bit deeper. Weber clearly made her sentiments known -- PDs were simply not realistic souls, not really supplying a realistic alternative vision of events as compared (though she doesn't really say as much) to War Democrats. Besides, one had a hard time sympathizing with people clearly racist, though obviously, not really much more than the norm, relatively speaking. Many Republicans, after all, wanted to shunt freed slaves to other countries.

It is important to understand the various groups in society, including the dissident ones who seem to go against the norm. Looking at things closely, you start to realize that life is not simplistically divided into two or so groupings. Thus, I probably would look at Peace Democrats somewhat more sympathetically. Besides, you get an idea why the nation was so attracted to their ideology even from reading the book ... consider the horrible death toll, push toward conscription, and major moves toward centralized national power, all quite troubling, especially given the sentiment of the era.

And, dissident movements that force strong opposition to concerns shared beyond their group often are not about "reality" per se ... it's like opposing the war in Iraq, and being expected to have a good alternative. On some level, it is fine to just oppose it -- it serves a purpose on its own. This is especially the case when we are talking about groups within a broader movement. This is not to say such groups must be accepted as reasonable, since they often are not. And, as McPherson himself noted, such opposition helped to unite the Republicans. Cf. The nominally one party Confederate Congress with a one term president, who all the same had plenty of opposition, just not quite as "official."

Still, fairly interesting. To add to the charm, it came via a reserve ... from the Chappaqua Library. Could Bill Clinton have read it while waiting for a plane or something? Next up on the alternate political group list ... Federalists in the 1790s.


* The Copperheads saw the Constitution as "a formal set of rules" while Republicans generally saw it more as "a living document that incorporated laws, customs, and practices," though there was some overlap -- after all, Lincoln et. al. did appeal to original understanding respecting not allowing slavery to spread. Copperheads had an idealized view of Jeffersonian democracy, one with a limited national government and weak executive, somewhat ironic given their hero Andrew Jackson's actual sentiments on some matters. Yes, this sounds sort of familiar.

To the degree that the CU Party had shades of Whiggery, the former "second" party in the U.S., perhaps my comparison does not work. IOW, Whigs were more comfortable with an "American system" that involved a somewhat more energetic national government, including respecting internal improvements. Still, they too feared a too powerful executive -- especially King Andrew -- so the comparison works on that end.