Post-midterm Blog Post #2- Politics then and now

Before taking this class, I was under the impression that politics in America’s early years were vastly different than politics today. And to a degree, that seems to be true. After reading chapters 8-11 in The Rise in American Democracy by Sean Wilentz however, it is clear that there are striking similarities between politics in the early 1800’s and politics today. Andrew Jackson and his life before and during his presidency were the focus of the chapters. In reading about his rise to the Presidency, the challenges he faced during campaigning and the divide between him and his main political opponents, I couldn’t help think about how similar it sounded to politics today.

Wilentz describes in chapters 8, 9 and 10 how Andrew Jackson rose to the presidency and the type of hardships he faced on his way to office. On page 160 he describes how Jackson, on the outside, remained upstanding and conducted himself with t “etiquette” when running for President. He also says however, that Jackson “threw himself into the fray behind the scenes as no other presidential candidate before him had”. He also points out that Jackson used generalities when campaigning, and began clarifying those generalities almost as soon as he got into office. (166)  I liked Wilentz’s writing in this part because I think it gives the reader a description of an early 19th century politician that could easily be used for one today. That wasn’t something I would’ve thought before reading this. The propaganda and slander that Adams and his supporters used in the election against Jackson is also something that I drew parallels with to modern day campaigning. Anytime elections are going on, it is common to see negative ads, attacking a candidate. Before reading this, I had no idea that this type of campaigning was utilized in 1820’s America. Jackson dealt with disparaging rumors about his mother and sister however, showing that this was indeed commonplace during this time period.

My one critique of Wilentz’s writing in these chapters is the way he characterizes Jackson’s handling of “indian removal” (170). While it was a different time, meaning Jackson’s opinions regarding native peoples is far less offensive and inhuman in 1830 than it would be now; I believe Wilentz almost unfairly defends Jackson. He compares Jackson to Henry Clay, saying that Jackson was a “benevolent, if realistic paternalist”(170) compared to Clay. He argues that Jackson truly believed that “removal was the only way to safeguard both the Indians’ future and the Constitution of the United States”. In my opinion he does not give Jackson enough blame regarding the Trail of Tears and the death of thousands of native people (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h1567.html)

Bringing Slavery to Light

Wilentz portrays President John Quincy Adams as weak-willed and lacking a certain charisma that defined most presidents at the time. There is a definite truth to Robbie’s assertion that, “The 1824 election, won by John Quincy Adams, resulted in an almost stagnant presidency, an exception for the time period.” However, I wouldn’t quite say it was a “stagnant” presidency, as this new Era of Bad Feelings was also filled with much political turmoil and shifting powers in American government. One of the most evident examples of Adams’ ineffective presidency was his failure to stand up to Governor Troup and the Georgia legislature. He simply submitted to the Georgians as they forced the Creeks and Cherokees off their legally occupied land. Not only did this conflict make Adams seem weak, it also made the federal government appear powerless, something the South used to their advantage when advocating stronger state governments. “In the first menacing assertion of what came to be known as southern state-rights sectionalism, Adams permitted the nation to surrender to state” (Wilentz, p. 139). John Quincy Adam’s presidency was not stagnant during this time, for there was a greater development of southern sectionalism and much more tension between federal government and country democratic movements.
As Andrew Jackson assumed presidency, another issue emerged alongside state-rights and would become the main catalyst in the split between North and South. Beginning with the Missouri Compromise, the question over slavery’s constitutionality in America was more apparent in national affairs than ever before. “The nub of the matter was, as ever, political: either American democracy could tolerate slavery or it could not” (Wilentz, p. 165). By removing the Cherokee Indians from their land, Andrew Jackson inadvertently reinforced the notion that whites were superior to nonwhites, which included blacks as well. This was also demonstrated by the fact that he owned slaves himself. The issue of slavery in national affairs gave rise to an abolitionist movement led by free blacks in the North. However, as the abolitionist movement grew, it only further threatened the national unity of the country. “The rise of the abolitionist radicals aggravated divisions within the North and the South as well as between them” (Wilentz, p.179).

The Second Great Awakening

A recurring theme in American history seems to be a struggle between the individualism and freedom of the majority’s Christian faith and the oppression and exclusion often imposed upon members of society. The Second Great Awakening is a prefect example of this dichotomy.  At first, the religious movement espoused connection with God for all individuals and even at times an outright rejection of slavery. These radical convictions, however, slowly transformed to an acceptance of slavery and instead formed a basis for the treatment of the enslaved rather than a protection for their freedom. Slavery, at this time, was certainly a reality that had to be faced but instead of addressing these issues on their own terms the evangelists seemed to bow to a status quo and adapt their ideologies to the institution of slavery. An earlier post this week observed that slaveholders “held ‘good’ Christian values, and wanted to save souls by spreading the faith. Southerners likely struggled to marry these ideological and religious beliefs to the institution of slavery.” This conflict is demonstrated in the transition from an early inclusion of slaves in the evangelical conversions to their exclusion from the movement. This change was largely motivated by a fear of solidarity and unity among the slave community that might lead to rebellion. The new evangelical movement moved beyond their original intentions on more issues than simply slavery, however. The Second Great Awakening began with an effort to include all those typically excluded from American society. Wilentz gives examples of how the movement made efforts to include “farmer and factory workers” (141) and allowed men of such simple origins to become “central figures of religious life” (142). This attempt at inclusion, however, moved from voluntary to mandated when the evangelists became involved in politics. They tried to permeate all aspects of government oversight with religious values from evangelical political parties to banning of mail on Sundays. Thus, America was faced with the dilemma of being struck with religious fervor and trying to balance that Christian passion with an effort to exclude some groups and involuntarily force it on others.

New Era

The early republic was characterized by multiple changes in the political power in the United States. From the beginning of the nation and the power of the Federalists to the dramatic growth of middle and lower class power inspired by Jackson it was always evolving. The 1824 election, won by John Quincy Adams, resulted in an almost stagnant presidency, an exception for the time period. Adams wasn’t able to accomplish much during his presidency because of issues stemming from the election, such as the “corrupt bargain” and also because “Congress would enact none of [Adams] improvement projects” (Willentz 138) The most important part of Adams presidency may in fact be that he opened the door for Jackson to become the President in 1828.

In an earlier post on October 23rd NAKINDIG said that “environment also played a huge role on early American History” and this was very true, especially when it came to Jackson’s rise to power. His growth to power started because of his rise to fame during the War of 1812 and it didn’t stop there. He became the man of the people, someone that the lower and middle class could identify with. His victory “marked the culmination of more than thirty years of American democratic development.” (Willentz 164) He was a savvy political mind and his building of his party he changed how democracy would forever be run in America. This was the true beginning of universal white male suffrage.

Now Jackson’s actual presidency was by no means perfect as it was quickly riddled with scandal and his removal of the Indians will forever cloud his presidency. But his ability to reach out to the common man, and his identity as an everyman changed how politics would be done forever. It was no longer just the elites who had a say in the governance of America.

Wilentz Ch. 7 / Davis Ch. 9-10: The Slave-Owner’s Conundrum

Sherwood Callaway

HIS 141, Blog post 5

In response to this week’s readings, one of my classmates wrote:

“While I certainly agree that the tension between the nation’s founding principles and the oppression of slavery contributed to masters’ desire to see their actions as a form of paternalism rather than overt oppression, I don’t believe slave owners had any interest in acquiring the affection of their slaves.”

http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/author/alkarout/

I understand this perspective; it is hard to imagine a way in which “benevolence” can be associated with such a horrendous institution. Southern plantation society seems completely consumed by capitalist gain and self-interest— lacking a sense of morality, and malevolent— especially from a modern perspective. This conclusion is accurate, but not entire.

Consider this angle. We often conclude that northerners were more morally inclined than southerners because of they held more progressive positions on the institution of slavery. But the northern colonies also participated in slavery— the difference being that they maintained a “society with slaves”, rather than a “slave society.” I would argue that the north was independent of slavery only out of convenience. If the institution had been more useful for shipbuilding, fishing or commercial activity, I’m sure it would have had greater influence in those spheres. After all, it is reasonable to assume that southerners sought the same thing as northerners: monetary gain. The prevalence of slavery in a particular region seems to have depended solely upon its potential to produce in said region.

The issue of racism in the south, however, is less excusable. We learned from studying the Chesapeake colonies that racism was not necessarily a reason for slavery, but rather a byproduct. White solidarity developed out anxiety and fear—the anxiety of being a minority, and the fear of a deadly slave revolt. But over time, white solidarity developed into an aggressive, indiscriminate defense mechanism. This trajectory— from prolonged fear to aggression— is strikingly similar to colonial perspectives of natives during the 17th century.

(On a more general note, I think that the innumerable dangers of the “new world” explain the colonists’ aggressive behavior. They seemed to be constantly on edge!)

Ultimately, racism became malevolent, andcontributed to sustaining the institution of slavery. But this isn’t the complete story. Because of their spread-out communities, southerners enjoyed plenty of freedom from both the law and their peers. Their sense of personal liberty was second only to the frontiers peoples’. Also, they were English protestants. They held “good” Christian values, and wanted to save souls by spreading the faith. Southerners likely struggled to marry these ideological and religious beliefs to the institution of slavery. In some capacity, I feel sorry for plantation owners, because they absolutely needed slave labor to compete economically, but the institution was incompatible with their beliefs. Sustaining their livelihoods meant burdening an ideological and religious conundrum.

This is where I return to my classmate’s post. I would argue that “paternal benevolence” likely existed as an attempt to reconcile notions of freedom and Christian kindness with the institution of slavery.

In sum: slavery was perpetuated by commercial interests and malevolent racism, but slave owners were not necessarily without benevolence.

Solidarity through Suppression: Slave Politics and Paternalism in the American South

Our readings for Tuesday address the features of slavery in the South as well as the politics of slavery in the West. And though on both fronts the so-called ‘peculiar institution’ faced different threats, from Federalists and Republic ‘Restrictionists’ politically and from non-slaveholding whites and dissident slaves domestically, the responses of slavery’s supporters to each threat shared a noteworthy similarity: by appealing to established convictions—either political, religious, or philosophical—leaders of the pro-slavery minority established solidarity along political, social, and racial lines.

On the political front, the assault on slavery by humanitarian Federalists and ‘Restrictionist’ Republicans evolved into a Constitutional debate with the admission of Missouri into the Union. For the pro-slavery Southern Democrats, this marked a crucial juncture for the protection and expansion of the institution which had experienced an unprecedented renaissance during the highly lucrative cotton boom of the 1790’s and early 19th century. Not only would the admission of Missouri as a slave state establish a pivotal four vote majority for the pro-slavery coalition in the Senate, but it would also ensure the expansion of slavery into the West, since, as Wilentz noted, “southerners worried that if slavery were banned in Missouri there would be precedent for doing so in all the states” (117). Characterized by intense factionalism on both sides, the debate over Missouri’s slave status echoed that of the Federalists and Anti-federalists just decades before. Insisting that the preservation of individual rights superseded that of the states’, Restrictionist Republicans argued for the Congressional power to restrict slavery in newly admitted states. Conversely, pro-slavery Southerners recalled the arguments of the Anti-federalists and Old Republicans, asserting state sovereignty and federal limitations. Missouri, they insisted, must decide the slavery question for themselves. Embroiled in the age-old debate of states’ rights and divided along regional lines, each faction became increasingly polarized and radicalized. In the South, “sectional bitterness spiked” along with “southerner’s militancy over slavery” (Wilentz 121). And in the fallout after the Missouri Compromise, bitter southerners made themselves known. Of those senators who voted against Senator Thomas’ clause, 2/3 were re-elected, a tremendous victory compared to the only 2/5 of Compromise’s supporters who earned reelection (123). By appealing to well-established Anti-federalist doctrines, pro-slavery Republicans ensured victory as well as political and regional solidarity.

On the domestic front, however, slavery faced much different opponents. Though outspokenly pro-slavery in the Senate, southerners themselves were not all slave-holders. In the antebellum South, “72 percent [of slaveholders] owned fewer than ten [slaves]” (Davis 198). In fact, the “typical” white Southerner at the time was a struggling small farmer, not a slaveholding great planter (185). Such a great number of non-slaveholders threatened the cohesion of the Southern slave society and plantation owner elites. In the Upper South, anti-slavery sentiment was on the rise, and in 1832, the Virginia unprecedentedly supported the notion that slavery was ‘ruinous to whites’ (185). Thus, “Southern slavocracy” entered a bitter battle with the threat of an alliance between non-slaveholding whites and dissenting slaves (185). But in the process, they treated each group similarly. To the enslaved, Southern elites adopted the practice of “Paternalism,” whereby slaveholders earned both the love and fear of their slaves by tempering their violent threats and abuses with acts of kindness and generosity, such as monetary bonuses and Christmas vacations (194, 196). To non-slaveholding whites, pro-slavery elites employed a strategy similar to that of paternalism, instilling a racist fear of freedom for slaves and a love of class cohesion for whites. By appealing to the long-established Aristotelean defense of slavery and the Biblical “Curse of Ham,” pro-slavery intellectuals, such as James Henry Hammond, fostered the notion of white supremacy in an effort to “command the loyalty of non-slaveholding whites” (192). Accordingly, African slaves were of a “inferior race. . . [that] will never effect . . . in any other condition as in that of Slavery” (189). In addition to the reinvigorated racism of the South, however, slavocracy had the two-fold effect of dissolving class differences amongst whites. Influenced by the disparity of liberty and equality between themselves and enslaved Africans, poor Southern whites could “take pride in their skin color and feel equal to the wealthiest and most powerful whites” (177). Thus, as in paternalism, pro-slavery elites exploited their subordinates—this time an increasing number of non-slaveholding farmer—by instilling both a fear of Africans through racism and and a love of white solidarity through class cohesion.

In her blog this week entitled “Not-So-Benevolent Paternalism,” Alia Karout stated “personally, I am not convinced that nineteenth century figures are above criticism for their faulty morality” (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/not-so-benevolent-paternalism/). Though she conceded that perhaps Southerner’s “lack of humanity” could be attributed to “their misguided systems of belief,” I would encourage her to consider the typical Southerner of the antebellum South, the small, struggling farmer. Consider their exploitation by Southern politicians to endorse slavery for the sake of states’ rights, by Southern intellectuals to embrace white supremacy for the sake of ancient truths and Biblical legends, and by Southern elites to ignore class disparity for the sake of their liberty and equality. Can we not sympathize with white Southerners?  Were they the victims of “misguided systems of belief” or the exploitative Southern elite?

Not-So-Benevolent Paternalism

This week’s Davis reading was incredibly gripping. He expanded upon the nuances and contradictions of slave societies that can often be perplexing. He clarified the point that, while slavery and racism in early US history were deeply intertwined, the absence of slavery did not equate to absence of racism. The racial slavery that was characteristic of the US’s slave system had an impact that also affected free blacks. This was illustrated by the existence of a color complex among freedmen—a manifestation of internalized racism created by slavery. Freedmen were ‘eager for honor,’ and did not want to be referred to as any darker than they found themselves, thus showing that, as a result of white supremacy in the US, ‘honor’ was directly correlated with whiteness (180). The case of William Ellison, who was born a slave but became a slave owner, also showed the extent of slavery’s negative impact. The lucrative nature of slavery, especially in the south, could intoxicate anyone—even those who had been its victim— into defying the basic principles of humanity by becoming slave owners.

Tasimmons mentioned in their post that “the American preoccupation with being liked by their slaves and being ‘paternalistic’ was a result of the disparity between the institution of slavery and the principles of liberty and freedom.” While I certainly agree that the tension between the nation’s founding principles and the oppression of slavery contributed to masters’ desire to see their actions as a form of paternalism rather than overt oppression, I don’t believe slave owners had any interest in acquiring the affection of their slaves.

Masters were only willing to consider accommodating their slaves in order to instill the absolute minimum amount of docility as to not create an uprising. The slave codes of southern states showed that “bondsmen were human beings who were capable of plotting, stealing, fleeing, or rebelling, and who were likely to be less ‘troublesome property’ if well cared for under a program of strict discipline” (Davis, 193-194). The welfare of slaves was only desirable to the extent that the master’s economic interests were protected. Even then, the submission of slave rebellions was more often achieved through psychological torment (for example, the threat of separating enslaved families by selling off relatives) than by appeasement (Davis, 183). The portrayal of slave ownership as benevolent paternalism was nothing more than a condescending infantilization of blacks and an overall poor excuse used to perpetuate the lucrative institution of slavery.

Personally, I am not convinced that nineteenth century figures are above criticism for their faulty morality. It’s unsettling that some people can look back upon great acts of systematic oppression with an apologetic tone. Perhaps it’s easier to attribute the lack of humanity of the ruling class to their misguided systems of belief, but after reading Davis I can’t help but think that southern American slavery came from a conscious decision to place profit above humanity.

Political Turmoil

It often seems as though the current political climate is the height of inefficiency and divisiveness. This, however, is wildly inaccurate, as the American government has been divided along party and geographic lines since its creation. One of the issues that created the worst rifts in the early nation was slavery. Many of the same arguments that occur today were just as present hundreds of years ago. Politicians argued over the intentions of the Constitution and the scope of national government. They refused to cooperate and took steps to secure their own self-interests over national good. Although the terms of the argument have certainly changed, we no longer debate the legality of slavery or property requirements for suffrage, today’s political fights are just as fierce and contentious as they were during the Missouri controversy. In addition, just as is done today the fundamental principles of America such as freedom and individuality were used to support a wide range of positions that often contradicted each other in their employment of these ideals. This, some would say, leads to slaveholders’ need to be beloved by their slaves. This is touched on in the Paternalism in the American South post, which posits that the disparity between American conceptions of freedom and the injustice of slavery creates the paternalistic attitude asserted by proponents of slavery. Even more interesting is the “necessary evil” approach to the slavery issue. Just as today many admit that the environment is a growing moral and practical issue, some choose to push the issue off as a necessary evil for growth and progress. As soon as we, as a society and a nation, transcend one issue, another arises. Thus, just as the country was engaged in political turmoil in the 1800’s and is still today, there will probably still be political debates another two hundred years from now. The strength of the American political system is its ability to survive political fads and stand as a framework for political progress at any point in its history.

 

 

Paternalism in the American South

After the American Revolution, American society was characterized by strong ideas about and pride in their widespread freedom and yet the South was still home to thousands of slaves. The so called Peculiar Institution was, no doubt, economically imperative for the region through the nineteenth century; over 60 percent of cotton was grown in the American South (Davis 184). However as the debate between supporters of slavery and abolitionists intensified during the nineteenth century, slave owning southerners began to attempt to justify slavery by using the principles of the new nation.

People who supported slavery used ethnology in order to support the morality of slavery, claiming that the naturally inferior black race depended on the regulatory influence of whites to prevent the “progressive decline and decay” which would result if slaves were emancipated and left to fend for themselves (Davis 189-190). Slavery, therefore, possessed a quasi-paternalistic aspect which was unique to the American South. In fact, “several traders noted that American masters wanted above all to be ‘popular’ with their slaves – a characteristically American need that was probably rare in Brazil and the Caribbean” (Davis 195). I would argue that the American preoccupation with being liked by their slaves and being “paternalistic” was a result of the disparity between the institution of slavery and the principles of liberty and freedom which took hold of the nation during the revolution. Abolitionists in  Great Britain often exploited this disparity in order to renounce slavery and the validity of Americas claims of being an equal society. The paternalism of southern slavery was a defensive reaction against this, attempting to integrate slavery into the new national rhetoric.

I found it interesting that Davis occasionally pulled from modern society in analogies dealing with slavery in nineteenth century America. These projections into the modern day sometimes clarified claims, such as Davis’ comment that “If slavery had persisted into the later twentieth century…one can only…imagine large corporate planters passing out ‘overseer evaluation forms’ to the slaves” (Davis 195-196). However, I question the applicability of these comparisons. In class we discussed the danger of applying modern systems of beliefs to peoples from the past who possessed completely different systems of beliefs and different circumstances. By drawing comparisons between nineteenth century America and modern America, without taking into account the evolution in moral thought which occurred, Davis is in danger of drawing conclusions from faulty evidence.

 

The Rise and Fall of Federalism, America’s first Crucial Election, and the War of 1812

A major theme of this week’s reading is the examination of American government structure immediately following the Revolutionary War. After gaining independence, the founding fathers aimed to control individual states, prevent division among states, and manage unorganized territories in the west. As the first official president of the United States, George Washington led the young nation as the symbol of the Federalist Party. The two major political parties during the time period were drastically different; the Federalists supported a strong and centralized federal government while the Anti- Federalists favored a decentralized federal government that gave most of its power to the states. Moreover, Federalists believed that an overly-liberal democracy would breed disorder and possibly revolution. In contrast, the Anti-Federalists believed that an overly powerful central government would develop into an oppressive monarchy much like the one in England. Despite holding an early advantage over the Anti-Federalists with the presidencies of Washington and Adams, the Federalist Party began to lose support as America entered the 19th century.
The presidential election of 1800 marked a significant turning point in early American history because the balance of power among the two major political parties shifted for the first time. Disputes between John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (two of the remaining leaders of the Federalist Party due to the death of George Washington) exemplified that “Federalist solidarity had collapsed” (Wilentz, 39). In contrast, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson emerged as a political force for the Democratic- Republicans by attracting support in both the North and South and then soundly defeating the Federalist incumbent John Adams to take control of the White House. As my classmate ROMANGONE pointed out, the American people became detracted from the Federalist Party as well as the idea of Federalism following the election of 1800. Also, Americans began to favor Thomas Jefferson’s republican form of government. The ramifications of the election of 1800 were far-reaching not only because it was the first shift in power between parties but because it represented a shift in the political ideals of Americans.
In Chapter 5, Wilentz discusses the consequences of the War of 1812 for politics in the United States. At first, the war appeared to be a meaningless yet costly use of American resources, however, the war ended up providing James Madison with a ton of political momentum and producing future political mavericks like Andrew Jackson. In addition, the war sparked the support of the Republican Party and essentially buried the Federalists. Wilentz emphasized that the United States did not gain copious amounts of land through the war but acquired respect from nations around the world as well as the confidence that they could operate independently. I know that some of my classmates have argued over when exactly the Federalist Party should be pronounced dead, some have said after the crucial election of 1800 and some have said during eruption of Republican support that followed the War of 1812. I believe that the Federalist Party began its steady decline after losing the White House in 1800 but did not completely implode until America was in strong support of Jefferson ideals and Republican government after their victory over Britain.