Crises of legitimacy are rarely resolved without some resort to violence. The European experience in the seventeenth century is generously populated with examples: The English Civil War, Le Fronde I and II, The Thirty Years War, The Great Deluge that rocked Eastern Europe and the Polish Commonwealth. Even the Glorious Revolution, that peaceful coup launched by Anglicans and Whigs against James II, wasn’t all that glorious or peaceful in the Celtic fringe of Ireland and Scotland. Violent aftershocks were felt until the suppression of the ‘45 on Culloden Moor. Our own history saw two great blood lettings brought about by a crisis of legitimacy, the War for Independence and the War Between the States. The latter still plays a prominent role in our confused political culture. Today, “conservative” commentators refer to the Southern bid for independence as a treasonous action undertaken to preserve the institution of slavery. At best, this is a gross over-simplification. Worse, it contributes to a false understanding of the past that will lead to misdiagnosing the ills of our dangerous and increasingly violent times.
A certain generation of sober historians from not too long ago regarded the Late Unpleasantness as a terrible and avoidable tragedy. The narrative tells the tale of a blundering generation of politicians who in the 1850s stumbled and pitched the union into a horrific and needless conflict whose toll in death and destruction, at least for the South, was similar to what European countries experienced at the close of the first and second world wars. The blundering generation exploited the issue of slavery for short term political gain at the expense of domestic tranquility. The status of slavery in the territories was the flashpoint, though what was really at stake was the control of the Presidency and the Senate, and ultimately the Supreme Court.
In many respects the status of slavery in the territories was a non-issue. Whatever initial numerical advantages Southern settlers favorable to legal protections for slavery gained in Kansas would be inevitably wiped away by the rising tide of Northern migrants into the region. Demography was destiny, and the game of numbers favored the North. In territories such as California and Nebraska, the South did not stand a chance. Popular sovereignty would hold sway and these territories would enter the union as free states. As to the status of slavery in those states were it legally existed, abolitionists themselves were divided. William Lloyd Garrison argued for expelling the slaveholding states from the Union, John Brown and his financiers favored purging by blood via a slave insurrection the institution of slavery from all quarters of the Union, more moderate types favored some or another scheme of gradual emancipation. The fundamental crisis of the Union was not the status of slavery, it was arithmetic. For the first time in its young history a political party, the Republicans, representing only one section of the United States was on the brink of dominating the federal government.
True, the slavery issue was heated and gave an opportunity for extremists on both sides of the issue to move their heated rhetoric into the center of public discourse. The racial views of the day compounded the hostilities between North and South. Northerners who declaimed against slavery, except a tiny minority, were absolutely opposed to increasing the numbers of people of African descent in their states. Those “free” African Americans who lived north of the Ohio found themselves under a regime of laws and customs as strict and oppressive as the Jim Crow legislation introduced in the South decades later. Southerners in the antebellum era had few qualms about living with and among African Americans slave or free, if African Americans were in a state of political, economic, and social subordination to Whites. The Dred Scott decision was viewed with horror by nearly everyone in the North because it suggested that slavery was a legally protected institution nationwide and might result in Southerners migrating to the North with their African slaves. Northerners had opposed Thomas Jefferson’s argument for the diffusion of slavery as a means of bringing an end to the institution, but their opposition was based in large part in their bigotry toward people of African descent. Meanwhile, Southerners viewed attacks on slavery as an attempt to undermine what the viewed as a stable social order by potentially releasing African Americans from their subordination. Southerners were also quick to point out what they viewed as the North’s hypocrisy on the related issues of slavery and race, be it the Northern versions of Jim Crow or Northern participation in the lucrative slave trade.
The election of 1860 and the actions and policies of Mr. Lincoln called into question the legitimacy of the federal government for many Southerners. It brought to life the warnings of John Randolph of Roanoke and John C. Calhoun, the South would be governed by the North, Southern interests, and not just slavery, were put into the hazard. For Calhoun, one of the dangers to the federal republic’s integrity was the rejection of the principle that the union’s benefits and burdens were to be shared equally by the states. The Republican Party’s motto might as well have been that of every other conqueror in history, “Woe to the conquered, spoils to the victor.” The Republican Party had no intention of resisting the temptation of indulging their libido dominandi, and with John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay removed from the scene after 1850, compromise was impossible. This being the case, Southern states concluded, one by one and often for somewhat different reasons, that the federal government lacked legitimacy. The resort to military force upon the part of the federal government only confirmed their suspicions.
The guns of that war have long since been silenced, slavery has thankfully ceased, and racial bigotry has waned greatly in the succeeding generations, no matter what the “woke” among us believe; we who have more years and experience know better. An older conflict, however, re-emerged. One need only consult an election map broken down by county to see this ancient Anglo-American conflict in colors of red and blue, center versus periphery, court versus country. The great metropolitan cities and suburbs, college towns, the financial centers, the techno-autocrats of the left coast, and their suburbs arrayed against the small towns and rural counties of America. Neither slavery nor sectionalism nor the two-party system obscures the conflict now. A wide and deep enmity and distrust now separates Americans and reaches its icy hands to divide colleagues, friends, and families. When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 his legitimacy was immediately rejected by many in the Democrat Party, and some Republicans as well—the famous “Never Trumpers.” Signs and slogans declaring, “Not my president” were everywhere in the urbanized districts of the Court Party. Mr. Trump fought long and hard with the Court party elites who attempted to portray him as a puppet of Mr. Putin and the Russians, he “won” in the objective sense as the evidence clearly indicated he and members of his administration were the targets in a flimsy and clumsy attempt on the part of the Department of Justice to frame him. Mr. Biden’s apparent electoral victory is under intense scrutiny from Mr. Trump’s lawyers and a variety of private citizen organizations convinced his organization, in collusion with the overlords of the tech world and state election officials, committed the most egregious act of voter fraud in the history of the United States. The Court party denies this as a matter of course.
Though the evidence from “Russia Gate” supported the President Trump’s exoneration and justified a slew of criminal indictments of high officials in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it did not matter. In our post rational society, those who decided Mr. Trump was an illegitimate president will not be moved by such petty inconveniences as facts, sworn affidavits, and evidence.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden’s talk of “healing,” or perhaps he means “heeling,” is comic in the darkest sense. The harsh and damning terms in which Mr. Trump and his supporters were described by him and his allies the last four years have not been forgotten, nor have the calls to incarcerate Trump supporters in “re-education camps.” This is dark and dangerous rhetoric, and it betrays a fatal ignorance of the capabilities of Mr. Trump’s supporters. Moreover, better evidence for Mr. Biden’s illegitimate election exists than that presented against his opponent the last several years. Mr. Biden’s famous remark about having the most extensive voter fraud organization in history no longer seems like a mere lapse in cognitive function from a man on the downslope of consciousness. What the Court did to delegitimize Mr. Trump’s presidency in the eyes of millions is now being done by the Country, perhaps with better evidence, greater integrity, and greater skill. It is turning millions of Americans toward questioning the legitimacy of the election and the Biden regime who waits in the wings. Even many Democrats now realize their party is no longer the party of the common person, it is the party of Zuckerberg, Goldman Sachs, globalists, the “perfumed princes” of the pentagon and military industrial complex (apologies to the late and great Lt. Col. David Hackworth), political hacks and bureaucrats: the sort of men whom John Randolph once described as worthy of loathing and fear, for they are the citizens of no country.
The great crisis of legitimacy that resulted in the War Between the States proved our country’s greatest and bloodiest war. For the states of Maryland and Kentucky, it was a true civil war, where brother fought brother, cousin fought cousin, yet these implacable foes did retain their humanity toward each other, ‘twas a more Christian age. All of America is now Maryland and Kentucky, circa 1860. The difference is the Court and the Country revile each other, and the lessons of the classics and Christianity will not provide restraint, not in a post-Christian and post-rational society. Three of our greatest statesmen: Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun could only forestall the awful conflict. Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and Stephen Douglas, all able men to one degree or another, they and the others of their generation blundered the nation into a horrible conflict. What are we to make of likes of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Janet Yellen, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Mike Lee, William Barr and the vast sea of mediocrities and blackguards inhabiting the foggy bottom swamp upon which the Court stands? No one can seriously entertain the notion that these persons are of the caliber of the Framers, the Great Triumvirate, or the Blundering Generation. Are they even capable of discerning the mischief their policies and negligence have wrought upon the country, or the deep mistrust they have helped to sow among their countrymen? What shall future generations make of such men and women?