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|From: Church & State: Editorials|
|Date: January, 2015|
The American Civil War ended a century and a half ago, and Abraham Lincoln, who started it, was assassinated.
The American Civil War, unlike the war in Ireland that goes by the name of the 'Civil War', was a real Civil War. The Irish were all agreed what they wanted—an independent Republic—but Imperial Britain would not let them have it. They did not achieve independence and then find that they disagreed over what to do with it. What they fought over was whether to submit to a British offer of something less than independence, backed by a threat of intensified British aggression if they did not submit.
No Imperial Power manipulated the Americans into fighting each other. They had driven out the Empire and they had not allowed an Empire Loyalist Fifth Column to survive and flourish in their midst. They were free citizens of free republican states.
Or most of them were. Some states had the "peculiar institution" established by Britain in the colonial period—a slave population of Africans transported to the American Colonies and to the Caribbean islands by English free enterprise during the 18th century.
The Caribbean islands were English Slave Labour Camps, specialising in the production of sugar by industrial methods. They were not slave-owning Colonies. Slaves constituted the majority of the population and the English populations were not developing colonies but slave-masters. The English on those islands had their local assemblies, but they did not seek to enhance those assemblies into independent states at the time when the mainland Colonies revolted and made themselves into states. They did not want to be left alone with their slave majorities. They needed English power for security.
The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland half-rebelled. They asserted the independence of their Parliament when England was occupied with the American War but they did not go on to establish an independent Government. Like the Caribbean English, they did not want to be left alone with the majority that they had been oppressing for a century. While declaring their legislative independence, so that they might oppress more freely, they made a point of remaining under English government.
(That extreme separation of the Legislature and Executive powers of state was unworkable. In 1800 the Government bribed the Ascendancy Parliament to dissolve itself, and modern Irish history began.)
The English slave system in the Caribbean, freed from Government restraint by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, flourished for about a century and a half. It was central to the establishment of the English world market, and it facilitated the take-off of industrial capitalism at home. It was formally abolished in 1838.
American slavery, which was existentially unlike English slavery, continued into the 1860s. Some states had it and some states didn't. It was abolished incidentally to the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. It was not the issue on which the Civil War was fought. The issue was whether the United States was to be an alliance of states or a Continental super-state.
A number of states seceded from the Union, taking it for granted that it was their constitutional right to do so. The Northern states, capitalist states conducted on the basis of free wage-labour, made war on them, asserting that the Union was a single state from which secession was not possible. The constitutional issue was decided by a war in which a million people were killed.
The Northern capitalism had world-conquering ambitions from an early stage in its development. It was the Northern will to power, not a superior ability in the reading of Constitutions, that determined that the United States was meant to be a single state from the Atlantic to the Pacific, rather than a kind of Europe on the American Continent.
Lincoln, in the course of the War, and as a war measure, issued a Proclamation abolishing slavery, but only in the states which were attempting to secede from the Union. Slave-owning remained legal in states which supported Lincoln's interpretation of the Union. And secessionist states could end the Unionist war on them by ending their secession, but not by ending slavery:
"I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual… It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination…
—that is, the perpetuity implied by the Declaration of Independence.
"It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union… I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States"
—meaning that as President of the Union he will uphold the Constitutional right to slavery in the states where it exists.
"If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the Government in acquiescence on one side or the other.
—meaning that, not only is existing slavery supported by the Constitution, but that slaves fleeing to states which do not have slavery must be returned to their owners.
"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends… Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union…"
That is the substance of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address in March 1861, shortly before the war began. It attributes to the Union the character of an absolute nationalism from whose authority there can be no escape, and denies that it is a civil association which could be dissolved amicably.
Stephen Vincent Benét ("Bury my heart at Wounded Knee"), though an admirer of Lincoln, puts it like this:
"The men who died for the South died, as they thought, for the independence their fathers had won before them. The men who died for the North died, as they thought, to preserve the Union their fathers had made before them" (America p59).
The progressive capitalism of the North, based on free labour and given a seemingly infinite power of expansion by the availability of free land—"Go West, young man!"—crushed the secession and forged the Union into the absolute nationalism which acts wherever it pleases, and in whatever way it pleases, by right of its absolute sovereignty.
Lincoln created this America, at the cost of about a million lives.
"There is a typical American watchword: 'We don't know where we're going, but we're on our way'… They want to act and to do. They want to get something in a hurry and turn to the next thing…" (Benét).
But for Lincoln's dogmatic Unionism and his singular political talent for warmaking, it is possible that, in place of the Continental monster state driven by a need to dominate the world, there would now be several states—Eastern, Southern, Western—which acted as a brake on each other and allowed the rest of the world to exist.
Post-Lincoln America does not stand for an ideal which is realisable in other parts of the world. The USA does not stand as an example to the world which other countries might emulate. It is not an example to the world, but a dominating World Power, which interferes actively against those who would emulate it.
The only foreign state of which it really approves, and allows to emulate it, is Israel—a small colony which came to a land full of people and set about turning it into"a land without people for a people without land".
There have been two great moral issues in the domestic history of the United States: the enslavement of a black population brought in from Africa, and the extermination of the native peoples who populated the Continent when the first English colonists arrived.
Unionist victory in the Civil War resolved both of these issues in a way that satisfied the conscience of the victors. Slavery was abolished and the slaves were emancipated into a different kind of misery for a hundred years. And the extermination of the peoples who were still clogging up so much of the western part of the Continent in 1865 was briskly carried to a conclusion in the course of 30 years by the irresistible power structure built by Lincoln. The last flicker of resistance—of insurgency?—was snuffed out at Wounded Knee in 1890.
Completion of the genocide was an unquestioned moral obligation for the progressive forces which drove the development of the United States. It had all the power of democracy behind it, and it might even be said to have been a precondition of the development of the United States as a free-ranging democracy without a ruling class.
In Europe capitalism and democracy had the problem of establishing themselves in the native populations of densely populated states with a long history of other ways of living. But, in the Lincolnist United States, there was no heritage of something else to be overcome. The principle of development was: Go West young man into those vast, emptied spaces where you will be your own master and can increase and multiply in freedom.
Sir Charles Dilke, the eminent Gladstonian, in his Greater Britain (1869), praised the Anglo-Saxons as the greatest exterminating race the world had ever seen. The fact was hardly disputable, least of all in America. And there was no noticeable public dissent from the praise. And, only twenty years ago, at a public meeting in Dublin, two public figures denied that the wiping out of the peoples of North America was genocide. During the past decade, however, US academia has been feeling its way towards an acknowledgement of the fact that multiple genocide was a fundamental element in the construction of the United States. And, if it ever falters in its drive for total dominance of the world, and has to stop and think, it will have some awkward things to think about.
The English Liberal Imperialist demagogue and politician of the mid-19th century, Macaulay, said that the US Constitution was: "all sail, and no anchor". In this mode it has made the world dependent on it. Twenty-five years ago it seemed to have achieved omnipotence, and to be alone in the world, hearing nothing beyond itself but echoes of its own greatness. But it was still not content. What it wanted beyond what it had achieved was something it did not seem to know.
Although its propaganda suggested that it wanted the rest of the world to be like itself, this was the last thing it could tolerate. It can tolerate no independence but its own, and its own independence must be absolute. But its handling of the world after it became uniquely dominant in it in 1990 has now brought about a situation which it cannot tolerate. Two independent states have arisen which will not do its biding, but which it cannot make war on without gambling with its own existence.
It had, for about two generations, the fixed idea that China was destined to be its client state. Under that delusion it gave it formal Superpower status in 1945, with a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council and a Veto on UN decisions. Three years later China became a Communist state. The US vetoed UN recognition of the regime change in Peking. Its client Government retreated to the island of Formosa/Taiwan, but it retained the official status of the Government of China for a generation. Eventually the US recognised the party that actually ran China as the Government of China. This was for the purpose of widening a rift that had opened up between the Communist Governments in Peking and Moscow.
Peking then chose a form of economic development by means of the market and Washington imagined it reverting to its pre-1948 condition of a client state. But China did not become an enormous market for American commodities. Its Government ensured that its market development was directed towards the formation of a strong national economy—as both the British and US Governments had done with their markets. Capitalist China replaced Communist China as an enemy—and a more dangerous enemy in some ways because it was a strong rival within the world market constructed by Britain of which the US had taken control in 1945.
Then the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia became capitalist. But, unlike China, it did so anarchically. During the 1990s it had no national Government. The living conditions of the populace plummeted. Its capitalists were the "oligarchs" , who had become billionaires by appropriating state enterprises, not by fighting their way up through the jungle of the market. This Russian capitalism was submissive to US Capitalism and Washington gave priority to expanding NATO eastwards, pushing it up against what remained of the Russian state, apparently with the intention of suffocating it. But what all of that gave rise to was a kind of national-capitalist revolution in Russia which restored the State, shaped market activity to the requirements of national economy, and brought an abrupt end to NATO's process of strangulation by annexing the Crimea with the consent of the populace, in response to the anti-Russian coup enacted by the USA and the EU in Kiev, and prevented NATO encirclement of its Crimean Naval base.
The irresistible force of American "manifest destiny", made into a Super-state by Lincoln, has now come up against irremovable objects in the form of capitalist China and capitalist Russia. It is not in its nature to admit that it has been resisted. It must believe that it can subvert those apparently irremovable objects. What the subversive policy has achieved so far is to drive China and Russia into alliance.
In 1948 the world was divided between Capitalism and Communism. It is now divided by Capitalism, between states which accept US hegemony and states which do not. Social ideology has been demonstrated to be beside the point.
The abolition of slavery was incidental to a Civil War fought on another issue: the formation of a Continental Super-state.
At the end of the War, however, the Emancipationist ideology became dominant in Congress and, with the removal of Lincoln, it attempted to subordinate the slave-owning population of the defeated states to rule by the emancipated slaves. This gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, which restored white supremacy by informal terror—and saved the Union from a second danger.
The first American film classic, The Birth Of A Nation, celebrates the Ku Klux Klan. President Wilson, who was saving the world for Democracy, premiered it at the White House. And, in his earlier capacity as a historian, he agreed with the view that the Union could not have been sustained if the cultivation of black-ruled states by abolitionist idealists in the defeated Confederacy had not been prevented. There does not seem to have been any serious disagreement about this amongst those who conducted American politics.
The informal subjugation of the emancipated slaves and their descendants was not challenged officially for a hundred years. It was only in the 1960s that the process of phasing them into US national life began. Their increasing prominence in public life in Lincoln's Super-state does not seem to have diluted its sense of universal destiny any more than the rise of the Irish or the Italians did before them. The all-important thing is the State and its pursuit of universal power. That is Lincoln's heritage to the United States. His heritage to humanity is something else.
Abraham Lincoln. Editorial
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