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Justice in the Days of Lincoln, Johnson, Grant—the Civil War and the Abolition of Slavery


TrueTomHarley

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I’m not reading up on Lincoln anymore. I’m reading up on Grant. Pudgy would like both, I think and may already be well-versed. They both were raised in lowly circumstances. They both were unusually humble and defenders of the lowly. They both were continually sneered at by elites. They both made emancipation of slaves their chief mission. And they both . . . wait for it  . .  found occasion to suspect habeas corpus. 

I have a younger relative who is libertarian. By far, that is his overriding philosophy, motivating everything he does. The first factoid he ever learned about Lincoln was his suspension of habeas corpus. That was enough for him to permanently put Lincoln on his evil-person list. From there, he immediately bought into the invective that Lincoln didn’t give two hoots about freeing slaves—his sole concern was preservation of the union.

In fact, from the very beginning, Lincoln purposed that quenching the ‘rebellion’—such it was called at the time—would go hand in glove with destroying the

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institution of slavery. But he could not 
just outright say it. He knew he had to first build a consensus. Many were the northern abolitionists who did outright say it, and they were immediately marginalized into a minority camp. Minorities don’t win at the human game of government. William Seward (by far the front runner leading up to 1860–everyone supposed hewould be president, not Lincoln) also did say it, giving a lofty speech invoking a “higher law.” Not only was he marginalized by those to whom the sole mission of freeing slaves was insufficient motivation, but he was alsomarginalized by those who supposed there was no higher law other than the human experiment of ‘government by the people.’

The only way Lincoln’s Emancipation would fly in all the North, not just with the abolitionists, was for him to sell it as a military strategy. White northern troops fretted over who would mind the household while they were gone. White southern troops had no such concerns; their slaves could keep things humming. Free those slaves and the playing field was leveled. In fact, it was more than leveled: those slaves would begin to conspire against their masters.

Two sacrosanct, as human principles go—standards of justice took front and center stage in the Civil War years: state’s rights and habeas corpus. I can imagine Pudgy railing against any infringement of either:

”Tyranny …. in soft measured voices, done in secret, and with powdered silk gloves is STILL TYRANNY.”

Oh yeah, I can easily see it! And I’d tend to agree, in a relative sense—but only a relative sense. Fact is, such lofty human principles stood squarely in the way of a far greater good: the liberation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved people. Robert E Lee personally loathed slavery. He had never owned a slave. But he took up the call of what he considered even more sacred. ‘State’s rights’ became the clarion call for him. Consequently, he signed on to command Southern troops, enshrining slavery as the ‘right’ of the state to decide, not some meddling Union to impose their standards from afar.

‘Man is dominating man to his injury’—even (and in this case, due to) when they run by their own self-invented concepts of justice. In the greater removed picture, looked at from our time, only the elimination of slavery matters. One Union should split into two? It’s like Bud said when he threw away the anti-rattle clip he couldn’t figure out how to reinstall—“What’s more rattle on a Ford?” So it is with human self-government. What’s one more division of mankind in a sea of many divisions?

Here the two bedrock principles of American justice, habeas corpus and state’s rights, stood squarely in the way of real justice for hundreds of thousand of Blacks—for Whites too, for that matter, since Jefferson wrote of the South: “The parent storms [in domination of his slaves]; the child looks on . . . puts on the same airs . . . and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, can not but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.” 

One is reminded (a bone for science-fiction aficionados) of ‘Childhood’s End, in which the alien overlords paid no attention whatsoever to ‘state’s rights,’ immediately and decisively ending the cruel spectator sport of bullfighting. 

Lincolns’ suspension of habeas corpus was a measure he deemed essential to preserve the Union, which action would enable the freeing of slaves. Certain journalists were openly encouraging desertion from the Northern army. ‘I should shoot some guileless plowboy deserter and not the guileful propagandist who induced him to do so?’ he posed.

Grant’s suspension of habeas corpus during his presidency is more directly connected with the welfare of Blacks than was Lincoln’s. In the early days of Johnson’s presidency, the Ku Klux Klan arose. Reports were that it commanded the active participation of 2/3 of southern Democrats whites, and the tacit participation of the other third. By many measures, Blacks were worse off than during slavery. The white aristocracy manipulated them into situations just as oppressive but with no obligation to provide for them.

Unspeakable and well-documented atrocities became routine. Not only might blacks be easily beaten or killed, but also white Republican southerners who aligned with them. Murderers could not be brought to justice. Witnesses were too intimidated to speak out, and with good reason; no jury of peers would convict Klansmen, and the retribution against witnesses would be severe. Grant sent in federal judges, and suspended habeas corpus in enough instances that Klansmen would turn upon each other in efforts to get off or gain lighter sentences for the crimes that a non-federal judge would excuse. Within a few years, he had broken the back of the Klan. It’s later reemergence is in name and ideology only (just as Baal worship kept coming back, even though guys like Elijah would clean it out from time to time.)

Habeas corpus and state’s rights—noble as far as human principles go, but not a guarantee that evil cannot, not only exist, but prevail. 

Anyone thinking that God works through America (or any other country—America being the only topic of consideration here) is invited to look at the Andrew Johnson administration. “Be Like Abe” flies, as does (to a lesser degree, but still doable) “Be Like Ulysses,” but not “Be Like Andrew.”

By the end of the war, Abraham Lincoln succeeded in bringing justice to blacks. Andrew Johnson undid it all. Grant’s work was to undo the damage that Johnson had wrought and he largely succeeded. What justice might have prevailed if Lincoln had been immediately succeeded by Grant, with no Johnson in between? 

Like Lincoln and Grant, Johnson too was brought up in lowly circumstances. He too was a self-made man. There the similarities end. Johnson was intensely racist. He was intensely vindictive (at first) to the former Confederacy, favoring severe punishment (akin to that imposed on Germany after WWI?) in contrast, Lincoln had been completely non-vengeful. Worse, vengeance was personal with Johnson. Vengefulness was a way of getting back at the aristocratic elites who had ridiculed and looked down upon him all his life. Northern abolitionists, who also (unlike Lincoln and Grant) favored harsh punishment for the South, at first thought they had found an ally in Johnson. But in fairly short order, he gave up despising the southern white aristocrats, and began kissing up to them, as though hoping to be anointed king of their club, his racist orientation a perfect match for theirs. 

God works through human governments? What if there had been no Johnson, and Lincoln’s ideals carried directly over to Grant. Shortly after the war, General Grant’s man told local transport companies in New Orleans that if they continued their practice of segregation, he would ban all that company’s cars from the road. According to Ron Chernow, author of Grant, “once the original hubbub over desegregated streetcars subsided, the locals had cheerfully adopted the new system and the excitement died out at once.” Chernow cites it as an example of the “startling early revolution in civil rights [that] would be all but forgotten by later generations of Americans.” What if Johnson had not come along to poison the well? Don’t you think if God ran the show through human government, he would not have?

A little bit on roll here. Sorry. I just wanted to kick back a little at those who think human standards of justice from the Founding Fathers are the bee’s knees. They're better than their absence, generally speaking, but sometimes they get in the way of true justice. 

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I’m not reading up on Lincoln anymore. I’m reading up on Grant. Pudgy would like both, I think and may already be well-versed. They both were raised in lowly circumstances. They both were unusually hu

The reason my libertarian relative can be forgiven for thinking Lincoln cared only about preserving the union and not freeing slaves was that the man said just that. You can’t fault a person for takin

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On the day of his hanging, A09D9CAD-D6BD-47AB-BFFE-6688D27B3E39John Brown handed a note to a guard written the day before: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” 750,000-person’s worth of blood was spilled in that Civil War.” It was blood spilled in payment for a moral failing, is what John Brown was saying.

Both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S Grant, the 16th and 18th presidents of the United States, came to hold and express that view. At Lincoln’s second inaguration, after four years of bloody war, the reelected president expressed hope that the fighting would soon end, “yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the [slaveholder’s] 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” He did not exempt himself from guilt. It was not an ‘us versus them’ speech. How could he condemn the South for not ending slavery when he knew of no easy solution himself? 

Says Ron Chernow, author of Grant, the 18th president, as both general and president, also “deemed the war a punishment for national sins that had to come sooner or later in some shape and probably in blood.” I am reminded of how, at the Martin van Buren home, a National Historical Park site, the hatted ranger told me that no president after Andrew Jackson served more than one term because “the challenges leading up to the Civil War were thought to be unaddressed by those presidents.”

They were “addressed” in that war. Per Brown, Lincoln, and Grant, they were addressed with plenty of blood. As a punishment for sins? You’d get no argument on that from those men. There is such a thing as ‘community responsibility.’ 

That inaugural address of Lincoln’s was overall praised, though the non-religious persons grumbled at his “substitution of religion for statesmanship." He himself allowed that the address would wear well over time, but not immediately, since “men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."

Tom Pearlsnswine, the fellow who mortified me by muttering about the ‘wiles of Satan’ when I was dumb enough to invite him to tag along with us on a visit to the dinosaur museum, the fellow who puts the dog into dogmatic, was not at all happy with this above historical discussion. “What does this have to do with the Bible?” he spouted. “These men were all bloodguilty,” he fumed, as he took another bite of his Bible sandwich. “Stay on topic!”

Even given his confidence in preservation of the union, even given his confidence in emancipation, would Lincoln not have agreed with the ‘bloodguilty’ charge? North and South were appalled at the phenomenal loss of life—far eclipsing the walk in the park some had first envisioned the war would be—and Lincoln, a man with a conscience, was commander in chief. Couldn’t he have gotten the job done with less blood? Wasn’t it his fault if he hadn’t? “If there is a worse place than hell,” Lincoln remarked in the aftermath of a staggering slaughter under the leadership of a particularly incompetent general (Burnside), “I am in it.”

Ten days before his death, Lincoln related a dream to friend and bodyguard Ward Leman. He was in the White House. “There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. . . . I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.” At length, he came upon a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments, surrounded by mourners and guards. He asked who it was. “The President,” was the guard’s answer. “He was killed by an assassin.”

Ten days later Lincoln was killed by an assassin. Ones who regard such premonitions as impossible deny the dream report, but Lincoln was well-known for relating portentous dreams.

(Written first, though as yet unpublished, on my own blog)

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15 hours ago, Moise Racette said:

There is nothing good that can be said about the abolitionist John Brown. He profaned the name of God and used his misunderstanding of scripture to justify his murderous rampage.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/63389806-john-brown

You’ll be happy to know you sold a book for this author—the prominent display of the Name on the cover is what did it. That, plus it is billed as a pictorial history. I found a print copy online for $7. I can afford seven dollars.

I already have plenty of print. Neither in that print nor our visit to Harpers Ferry, WV have I seen any use of ‘Jehovah’ (There is a Harpers Ferry chapter in ‘Go Where Tom Goes.’) It makes me wonder whether he himself identified with the name or whether it was assigned him by others.

In both ‘Team of Rivals’ (a Lincoln biography) and ‘Grant’ (guess who) there is but a single instance of ‘Jehovah’—that of an elderly black man ecstatic at liberation from slavery and shouting praise to God on that account.

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15 hours ago, Moise Racette said:

He … used his misunderstanding of scripture to justify his murderous rampage.

If you catch the drift of Matthew 13:24-30, there was no clear understanding of scripture to speak of till the separation of the wheat from the weeds. Brown was no ‘Patiently Sitting on my Hands.’ There was murder, though, and Lincoln approved of his death sentence. Henry David Thoreau however, called him after his death, ‘an angel of light.’

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4 hours ago, Moise Racette said:

Even in movies made about John Brown do they utter the name of God.

Even the crazed judge who wanted revenge on Lukas McCain (till he had a change of heart) declared he was but a servant of Jehovah. I have never seen a ‘Rifleman’ episode that said God’s name but I saw one this evening.

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“I will not run! If elected, I will not serve! I am not going to participate here at least to the end of the year. NOT! NOT! NOT! Get behind me Satan! You cannot tempt me for all the guns in Harpers Ferry!”

3 hours ago, JW Insider said:

If anyone wishes to discuss his books, I can join. I've read two of them, and that discussion will be moved to a JW-related forum.

I’ve no doubt that when I mention Frederick Douglass there will be a Frederick A Douglas who served in the Antarctic Branch.

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