Home National Politics The 3rd of July Nailed it for the 4th of July

The 3rd of July Nailed it for the 4th of July


As it happened, the City of Fairfax held its annual Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks Display on the 3rd this year. Perhaps this choice of dates was more meaningful than one might at first suppose. By that I do not mean that moving the parade to Saturday, the 3rd, meant that everyone could go to Church on Sunday, the 4th, and still show their patriotism at the parade.  No, it was because, as Walter Rodgers pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor for 5 July, 147 years ago the Union forces won not one but two great victories against the Confederacy on the 3rd of July 1863, at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The fall of Vicksburg (the “Gibralter of the Confederacy”), and the defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, were so important that “the eminent Civil War historian James McPherson” wrote in Battle Cry of Freedom:

Lincoln appeared at a White House balcony to tell a crowd of serenaders that this “gigantic Rebellion” whose purpose was to “overthrow the principle that all men are created equal” had been dealt a crippling blow.”

The Confederacy never recovered from these twin blows, and when Union armies advanced into the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day, as the federal forces implemented the Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January 1863. Whatever lawyerly constitutional splitting of hairs has been offered before or since for secession, the participants in “The War” understood perfectly well why they were fighting: to preserve that union which was founded on the freedom of all men, every one equally a human being.

Mr. Rodgers singles out Virginia:

“It might be unnecessary to remind ourselves of this had not Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently tried to re-create the fiction that there is something glorious about Americans slaughtering Americans in numbers approaching 700,000 men.”

The Governor issued a proclamation for Confederate History Month without once mentioning slavery. After a firestorm of criticism, the Governor prudently apologized, but, says Rodgers,

“political bumbling is not the issue. Rather it is the myth that there was ever a glorious lost cause of the Confederacy…. (and) on the eve of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemoration next year, we need to get it right and not let the ‘losers’ shape our sense of history.”

Getting it right does not mean belittling the sacrifices or bravery of Southerners, but “the steely truth remains: They were on the wrong side of history, defending an immoral cause.” Yes, indeed, an “immoral cause” because, at bottom the blather about states’ rights and rabid hatred of a strong, effective federal government was all a rationale to preserve the Southern way of life, that is, to preserve the abomination of slavery and an economy built on slavery- it was a stalking horse. Texas may try to scrub its textbooks to re-write history to affirms its bigotries, and Governor McDonnell may attempt to glorify Virginian General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy while turning a blind eye toward the ugly underpinnings of the social system Lee fought to protect, but that does not obliterate the truth, nor the debt of gratitude we all owe to those blue coats who fought and died to secure the victory of that Union first begun on 4 July 1776.

Not only was General Lee not the super-general as frequently presented today, as I have discovered since being enthralled by Douglas Southall Freeman’s works (including Lee’s Lieutenants), and the stories of my Southern grandparents—- he was a slave holder who whipped his slaves and, says Rodgers, “full of hubris,” who had the highest casualties of any general North or South (and that would include Grant, who I always thought was the stubborn one, sending wave after wave of soldiers into withering fire, as the Chinese Communists would later do in Korea)—- General Eisenhower even said Lee should have been relieved after ordering the “suicidal” frontal assault at Gettysburg.

What is relevant today is not General Lee, nor the touted charms of the antebellum South (charming only if one imagines oneself as the plantation owner, rather than the field hand picking cotton), nor even the sentimental glorification of the “lost cause” in a governor’s proclamation. What matters today is the revival of the old 19th century states’ rights arguments with its anti-federal government rationale, dressed up in much the same constitutional finery as of yore, all intended to conceal the ugly racism underneath (“I got nuthin’ ‘gainst n*****s, Ah think ever’body should have one”). Don’t kid yourself, the boiling rage of the Tea Party, supposedly triggered by the thievery of Wall Street and the economic crash, actually from the beginning had a strong element of hate/fear of non-whites whether  native-born blacks or immigrants “stealing” low-wage jobs and then receiving public assistance.

The interesting political point is how Wall Street and Big Business have diverted most of that anger from themselves toward the racial element, and toward the federal government under the guise of states’ rights. Big business and financial “interests,” which in the early days of the Republic required a strong federal government to create stability, rule of law, and a large, nation-wide market, now have decided that they themselves are big enough and powerful enough to prefer that governmental power be broken up into smaller units because it will be easier for them to control smaller units, playing one area off against another, enabling them to run their businesses without serious regulation. This preference creates a community of interest with those angry white people crowding into the Tea Party, who long for the balmy days when America was entirely theirs, when the U.S.A. was just coming into its true power, like, say, the 1950’s, when the rewards of being “free, white, and twenty-one” (especially if male) were huge, and the world was their oyster.

That this social system has somehow vanished, that in their opinion women and brown folks no longer are suitably submissive, that America is being attacked by outsiders who ought to be grateful to us, and that somehow our great capitalist consumer society has turned against them, has (they think) to be the fault of someone. The growing power of federal government is the handy target, and, surprise, that is also the target of global corporate business and finance.

This alliance of Business-Finance with angry middle class workers may seem puzzling, just as Democrats have been mystified by how many workers voted against their own interests and in favor of frequently bogus “social issues” beginning with Reagan.  Remember, though, that thousands of non-slave-owning, minimally-educated white farmers and what my Southern Grandmother referred to as “poor white trash,” fought for the South and against their own best interests.  All the ruckus being raised today by rallies against health care reform, deficits or national debt, and “too powerful” big government are simply the present-day cover for the selfish interests of the new elite. The Tea Party members down at the grassroots do have real problems and fears, but they are being used, conned by master Madison Avenue employees of Big Business-Finance.

It is not too much of a stretch to equate the elite of these global corporations with plantation owners of the Old South, and the Tea Party members with the non-slave owners who supported the Confederacy. It is not today a matter of education (many Tea Party members are in fact college-educated), nor of geographic location (many Tea Partyers live in the North or West), but a matter of perceived grievances, embellished and encouraged by the agitprop artistry of Madison Avenue-types working for the Business-Finance corporate elite.

I believe that the actual leaders who are funding the manipulation of the honest anger of the Tea Party have a long-range plan, and they have every expectation of keeping up this manipulation for the long haul—– but I am sure they would be delighted if the 2010 elections turned Congress over to their minions in the Republican-Tea Party.  Their long-range goals, however, go far beyond simply controlling Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Presidency of the United States. It looks to me as if their ideal is to control and use American power for their own ends, establishing here their base for corporate feudalism, creating alliances with similar business mafias in Russia, Europe, Asia, wherever Big Money and Finance can be found. Nation states will become like banana republics, with hollow political frameworks, staged elections, and peon-level populations almost devoid of any middle class.  

In their frantic haste to re-create the myth of a past Eden, the Tea Party is in fact going inadvertently to betray themselves and their children into a new kind of peonage. Instead of restoring their version of democracy, they will surrender to oligarchy.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the imagined myths of the Tea Party never existed, just as the imagined myths of the Old South never actually existed either; in any case, they can be considered both to have “Gone With The Wind.” Where will we find our dramatic battle for freedom like Vicksburg or Gettsyburg, when we have no similar up-or-down military confrontation? The answer is: on the battlefield of public opinion and at the ballot box in each and every election for the foreseeable future.  

  • Bumble Bee


  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Gen. Eisenhower had it right on: Gen. Lee refused to listen to Longstreet, who knew the futility of a frontal attack on higher ground where better artillery was also located.

    I have studied Pickett’s Charge closely because one of my great-great-grandfathers, Thomas Upchurch of the 7th North Carolina, was captured at the stone wall and died shortly thereafter in a Union prison, plus I had two ancestors in Pickett’s division. (That NC brigade had lost many men on July 1 and wasn’t even able to provide the support Pickett needed.)

    Lee’s military abilities quickly moved into the realm of myth in the South, as did the whole “Lost Cause.” I understand the terrible hardships faced by Southerners. I understand the suffering of my ancestors who survived. However, the “Lost Cause” was never noble or worth what it cost the South for the next 50 years.  

  • martinlomasney

    through all of the multiple layers of corporate fronts.  Dick Armey is one.  It’s all very cynical.  

  • libra

    these global corporations with plantation owners of the Old South

    and of course it’s possible. But being Marxist by upbringing and Marplish (suspicious) by nature, I’ve often wondered about about what we in Poland called “The Secession War”.

    Certainly, preserving the unity of the country was the overwhelming reason for the war. And doubtless, many of the Northern volunteers believed that they were fighting for the moral cause of freeing the slaves. But business being business (whether whoreporate or on a smaller scale), I can’t help but think that there was another component to it. For the agricultural and warm-weather South, it was cheaper/more convenient to own your workforce and house and feed it. For the rapidly industrialising urban North (with its less hospitable weather), it made sense to have a workforce which “took care of itself” but which, at the same time, was not in a position to bargain for better treatment (wages comparable to those of whites, etc). Cheap and plentiful, easily replaceable with nothing to worry about… like the illegal immigrants today.

    I may be entirely, wrong but I never fully trust anyone in power or swimming in lard — politicians, industrialists, lobbyists, whoreporatists, etc — who tells me “it’s all about ideals”. Ideals move poets; they don’t seem to have much influence over the people who’d rule us. So, while you compare today’s corporations to yesterday’s plantation owners, I’m inclined to compare today’s corporations to both: yesterday’s plantation owners (in the South) and yesterday’s factory owners (in the North).

    I don’t have a whole lot on which substantiate my gut feeling, except this: away from the cities, in the rural North, racism is as alive as (perhaps even more than) it is in the rural South. Even though, today (as then) blacks are more of an idea than reality, there.

  • Brian

    Teddy says

    Not only was General Lee not the super-general as frequently presented today, as I have discovered since being enthralled by Douglas Southall Freeman’s works (including Lee’s Lieutenants), and the stories of my Southern grandparents—- he was a slave holder who whipped his slaves and, says Rodgers, “full of hubris,” who had the highest casualties of any general North or South (and that would include Grant, who I always thought was the stubborn one, sending wave after wave of soldiers into withering fire, as the Chinese Communists would later do in Korea)—- General Eisenhower even said Lee should have been relieved after ordering the “suicidal” frontal assault at Gettysburg.

    Robert E. Lee never owned slaves. I know this because

    I volunteered right out of high school, for a year at Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Mansion.  Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and he wrote those beautiful words in the Declaration of Independece, “All Men Are Created Equal”,but he didn’t practice that, that’s why we hold him to task. And he published Notes On the State of Virginia with that ugly chapter on slaves.  Then of course he wrote the the Kentucky Resolutions, and proposed very early in the republic, that Virginia secede,but Madison talked him out of it.

       However, I am getting ahead of myself.  You say he was a slaveholder,who whipped his slaves.  No, he was not. Lee came from a wealthy Virginia family that had helped make the US: Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Richard Henry Lee were signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Richard Henry Lee’s cousin was Henry Lee the III, popularly known as Lighthorse Henry Lee, because he was in charge of a 1st Continental Light Dragoons. And he was superb in the saddle.He was aide to General Washington and was at Yorktown-later eulogized Washington. Lighthorse is the key here. The welfare argument of today, and the argument that its important to have a father in the house, really holds up and Lighthorse is a good example. He left his wife Ann Hill Carter Lee-who by the way is an ancestor to Jimmy Carter,who has been a champion of human rights. And Lighthorse Lee generally goes broke towards the end of his life during the Panic of 1796-1797, then he abandons his family which is deeply in debt.  This causes the single mother Ann, to leave the slave labor of Stratford Hall plantation,where Robert was born, and move to Old Town Alexandria. This was considered a setback. Lighthorse dies when Robert was 11.

    This begs the question, how did Robert E. Lee, get Arlington House? Easy, he marries into the Custis family.  The House was built by George Washington Parke Custis, to honor his step-grandfather George Washington. It was originally called Mt. Washington. Custis owned the plantation till his death in 1857,whereupon Lee became executor of the estate and still was in 1861,when the war broke out. He freed the Arlington slaves in accordance with Custis’s will in 1862. The reason why we’re talking about Lee, though is his profession, he was in the military. In the US military he used Arlington as a home base as he was assigned stuff to do by the military. Like putting down the rebellion at Harper’s Ferry. He was ordered to do that, that was an insurrection. It’s not because he loved slavery. He was ordered to go to Mexico. He didn’t own anything pre-Civil War. He didn’t own anything post-Civil War, as he was a professor at Washington College in Lexington and the college paid for his room and board. He was a soldier. He just was in charge of an army that was on the wrong side of history. It is known Lee had a temper.

    When I was at Arlington, I learned the Lee’s taught their slaves education, and he has statements on record saying he was against slavery. Omar Bradley really had reservations of the Atomic Bomb,but he kept them to himself, as he served under President Truman, who wanted to use the bomb to end the war. As we saw with the firing of McChrystal. that’s how it works. There’s no evidence however, Lee owned slaves or whipped them.

  • Teddy Goodson

    honoring General Lee, nor any of the other soldiers who fought well, many simply to defend their native soil—- nor, for that matter, those of the Union; I had family on both sides, actively seeking to kill each other, or who were otherwise supporting the war effort in public office.

    My comments here are based on sources I consider reliable (most of them in this case from The Christian Science Monitor, and personal family stories), but my opinions are my own. Growing up half-Northern and half-Southern, it has taken me many, many years to digest to my satisfaction the lessons of the Civil War. Frankly, I do not think this country has “digested” the War fully, yet, and we are now paying the price in today’s politics.

    Not all those lessons had to do with slavery or constitutional questions of fed vs state power, by the way. It was the Civil War that raised the Republican Party’s big Eastern bank-financial arm to such power, and established what turned into modern capitalism with its huge trusts, for example, not to mention the first statement that corporations are “legal persons,” shortly after The War. There was, and still is, a lot more to the Civil War than what I crammed into this article.  

  • We decided to head into Manassas yesterday to watch the fireworks (excellent display, by the way!  Way to go Prince William County!!) and were amused to be sitting on the lawn of the Manassas Civil War museum watching fireworks like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” played over the loudspeakers.