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What the South most needs is “peace,” and peace depends upon the supremacy of the law. There can be no enduring peace if the constitutional rights of any portion of the people are habitually disregarded…. All parts of the Constitution are sacred and must be sacredly observed – the parts that are new no less than the parts that are old. The moral and national prosperity of the Southern States can be most effectively advanced by a hearty and generous recognition of the rights of all, by all – a recognition without reserve or exception. With such a recognition fully accorded it will be practicable to promote, by the influence of all the legitimate agencies of the General Government, the efforts of the people of those States to obtain for themselves the blessings of honest and capable local government… Rutherford B. Hayes

The publisher’s description follows the bibliographic description of this book in its entirety. The reason we have done this is because Lemann, a sometimes journalist for the New Yorker and author of such books as THE BIG TEST – a favorable history of the SAT exam, has produced yet another book that has gained wide acceptance with the sob sisters of the establishment. The story will be accepted as factual and as incontrovertible evidence of the racism of white Southerners and serve as yet another justification for the kind of excesses that led to this tragedy in the first place.

Some writers have quite correctly identified the Civil War as a revolution. Where they fail, and most making the analogy fail in exactly the same place, is in assuming that the union victory was the triumph of a glorious revolution that finally ushered in the immanence of American equality with the enactment of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. In fact the revolution was the dismantling of the carefully crafted freedoms of the original American revolution, the dissolution of the intellectual and social structures that made it cohesive and the redistribution of the assets of the establishment in favor of the opportunists and scavengers that are the fellow travellers of every revolution.

What makes this book of particular interest to us is that we can read it and come to the exact opposite conclusions that the author offers. What horrifies us is that the “union” forces are still in control and are still using the same tools to attempt to defeat the legitimate aspirations of the people to the freedoms guaranteed them in the Constitution.

After the north had accepted the Southern surrender it sent armies of occupation into the South. It recognized the need for the pretense of legitimacy and so it granted the franchise to the newly freed slaves and used their votes, coupled with the votes of the occupiers, to overwhelm any democratic opposition on the part of disenfranchised Southerners. Of course there had to be a means of supporting the troops and doling out largesse to the new voters. Their genius was in declaring confiscatory property taxes in aid – ostensibly – of educating the new voters. While few of the new voters were in fact educated much of the rich land of the South was sold for a song to northern speculators and a select few of the new voters were treated to a costume ball complete with congressional seats, carriages and more glitz and glamour than the indians who had been swindled out of Manhattan. The majority of the new voters were left uneducated to rot in poverty, disease, crime and filth where their descendents remain to this day – unable to pass Lemann’s Big Test because all of that largesse that is supposed to help them is still being used to provide a carnival for the few while most of it lines the pockets of the descendents of the speculators.

After the first American Revolution there was a counter-revolution, largely the work of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, that sought to establish the norms of an aristocracy within a meritocracy. This was succeeded by the Jacksonian era of democratic meritocracy and the interweaving of these forces occupied the first three-quarters of a century of our national existence. What makes this period unique is that it was almost an exclusively American experiment in intellectual development. While the Europeans were careening from excess to defect and in an almost perpetual state of war and revolution the United States was able to hold together and expand in no small part because the average voting citizen believed he was receiving representation for his taxation – and lack of that, more than anything else, had been the tinder of our revolution.

If wars are about ideas the Civil War was about the importation of the European revolutions by the north in aid of building their dream of an industrialized nation-state and in order to do this they had to introduce a new idea – representation without taxation – which is the essence of what started with Reconstruction and continues under the guise of social welfare. In reality the only way to accomplish this is by going back to the old tyrants trick of taxation without representation but here again is the yankee genius at work because if you limit the size of this group – for all practical intents and purposes if you support cannibalism of the rich – you can still maintain the forms and pretense of democracy.  Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

Maintaining the forms and pretense of democracy is exactly what brought about the public end of Reconstruction. The Southerners used the rallying cries of freedom that had sustained Washington at Valley Forge and, by giving way to the northern industrial nation-state, were able to regain their forms and pretense. Rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding no successful Southern politician has appealed to anything other than moonlight and magnolias since. Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred, and always stronger than internationalism, and America retreated back into its desire to dominate the continent and would not poke its head above the parapet again until it had done so. A quarter of a century later when we did former Confederate General Joe Wheeler led troops and Fitzhugh Lee [nephew of Robert E. Lee] provided large parts of the political and military leadership in wresting Cuba from Spain in 1898.

Grant did not abandon the blacks with the same calculated disregard that Washington abandoned his indian allies. The aspirations of the Southerners to an honorable peace and fair treatment – and their rebellion against receiving neither – were legitimate and understandable. Within limits they were successful and in the American practice of compromise the blacks were left free, retained their franchise where they earned it and were allowed to progress as far as their talents would permit in a free society. We still have the tensions within our society and the problems caused by the war and reconstruction but we also have the means to resolve them – those means are simply not the ones advocated by Lemann.


Redemption : the last battle of the Civil War    New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006  Nicholas Lemann Violence Southern States History 19th century Hardcover. xi, 257 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [211]-236) and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Nicholas Lemann opens his extraordinary new book with a riveting account of the horrific events of Easter 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana, where a white militia of Confederate veterans-turned-vigilantes attacked the black community there and massacred hundreds of people in a gruesome killing spree.

This was the start of an insurgency that changed the course of American history: for the next few years white Southern Democrats waged a campaign of political terrorism aiming to overturn the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and challenge President Grant’s support for the emergent structures of black political power.

The remorseless strategy of well-financed “White Line” organizations was to create chaos and keep blacks from voting out of fear for their lives and livelihoods. Redemption is the first book to describe in uncompromising detail this organized racial violence, which reached its apogee in Mississippi in 1875.

Lemann bases his devastating account on a wealth of military records, congressional investigations, memoirs, press reports, and the invaluable papers of Adelbert Ames, the war hero from Maine who was Mississippi’s governor at the time. When Ames pleaded with Grant for federal troops who could thwart the white terrorists violently disrupting Republican political activities, Grant wavered, and the result was a bloody, corrupt election in which Mississippi was “redeemed” — that is, returned to white control.

Redemption makes clear that this is what led to the death of Reconstruction —and of the rights encoded in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. We are still living with the consequences.


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