Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The New Secession Movement

In 1860-1861, Southern States left the Union to form a separate Confederation of states. The Civil War Trust analyzed "Articles of Secession" to identify the reasons behind their state's decision to leave the Union. In addition to these articles,Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina issued "Declarations of Causes" to further explain their decision to secede. The Civil War Trust prepared pie charts showing "how many words were devoted to the issues raised in each state's Declaration as a percentage of the whole." The two common themes were slavery and states' rights with percentages ranging from 57 to 76%.   Some feel that these issues are one in the same, that is the right that the state wanted to exercise was the right to maintain slavery. Other's feel that states' rights was more far reaching and dealt with the separation of powers between states and the Federal government. Or, put another way, the Federal government usurping powers that the Constitution had left to the states.

At its most fundamental level, states' rights can be viewed as a battle between the individual and the government. The question becomes how intrusive/controlling the government is in an individuals life. A corollary to this issue is whether the government represents the will of an individual or individuals.  That was also an issue raised by Southern states long before the Civil War. They felt that they were under-represented in the Federal government.

This battle persists today and will continue to be waged in the future.  On the state level, Texas secession movements have now been joined by efforts in California. The issue in both cases is that the Federal government does not  reflect the values, interests, and priorities of the state. 

The California campaign argues that the state "suffers under federal over regulation, that the state contributes more federal tax than it receives in federal funding, that the state feels isolated from political power in Washington, DC and that there is a wide gap between the political and cultural differences of California and the rest of the country." 

A Texas petition stated that secession would "protect the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government" and defend Texans from "blatant abuses to their rights." It may seem odd, that two states that are on the opposite sides of political thought are proposing similar, perhaps identical, states' rights arguments.

If states feel that the the Federal government does not reflect their ideas and beliefs, what about individuals? This isolation and un-empowerment gives rise to what I have called the New Secession Movement. The movement reflects the frustration of the American people with the government and other institutions in failing to understand their pain and address their needs. The frustration produced the anger that one of the presidential candidates fueled with his rhetoric. Frustration gave way to looking for scapegoats. Those that felt powerless to complain or refused to blame others, simply dropped out. Around 55% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election. This means that 45% of Americans did not bother to vote --- they seceded from the election process. 

Some decided not to vote because their state was controlled by citizens who supported one party and they felt their vote would not count because of the electoral college. This is a legitimate reason not to vote in a national election which disenfranchises voters. Some did not vote because they disliked both candidates. Some abstained because they felt that government is controlled by special interest groups and their voice will not be heard. Ultimately, the reasons are not as important as the decision to set up individual "Free State of (insert your name)," pay as little tax as possible, watch the way the political winds are blowing, do not waste time trying to change the government, and head for Canada if things get really bad. I do not advocate this approach!

The political parties, which present themselves as an avenue to effect change spend their time asking for donations. They want our money and not our ideas. I conducted an experiment in the 2008 election when I offered my "expertise" on oil and gas issues. The only responses were requests for money. It appears that the more money you contribute, the more interest the politicians have in your ideas. 

Whether we become an official oligarchy or maintain our status as subjects of the Political Action Committees remains to be seen. The hope for popular vote presidential elections and Congressional term limits seems pure fantasy. 

For those who have decided to enter into political seclusion, they may awake like some modern day Rip Winkle to discover a country more like the British aristocracy of the 18th Century. Whether you opt for secession or join with others to make your voice heard, the choice is yours. As you make your decision, please ask yourself "Do we get the government we want or the government we deserve?"   

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Paducah and the Civil War

Paducah and the Civil War by John Cashon describes life in the strategic town of Paducah, Kentucky during the Civil War. The book certainly meets the author's mission to "highlight the role of Paducah, Kentucky, in the Western Theater of Operations." Readers who like their Civil War history served with a large helping of the "Rebel Yell" will like Cashon's perspective on Paducah.

Cashon presents events in Kentucky prior to the war in the chapter on "Calls to Secede." He describes the community's emotions in the face of a potential Union invasion. In the time between Lincoln's election and Grant's occupation, the major concern of the citizens was the interruption/interference with river commerce. In contrast to the rest of Kentucky, the area around Paducah favored secession.  The author notes that the June 12, 1861 action of Union troops taking down a Confederate flag in Columbus might have tipped the scale in Paducah's fragile neutrality.

Fort Anderson
The author provides background to the Union invasion of Kentucky. The Kentucky legislature was pro-Union while Governor Magoffin supported secession. Cashon points out that Confederate leaders believed that Union General William Nelson violated the state's neutrality when he established Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County. On September 2 and 3, Confederate troops occupied Columbus. Grant seized Paducah on September 6 and began the war-long control of the city. General Charles F. Smith was placed in command of Paducah and built earthworks around the city to defend against a rumored Confederate attack. He centered the defenses on the Fort Anderson that was built around the Marine Hospital. Cashon does a good job of reporting the the citizen's reactions.

Major General C. F. Smith
Cashon's chapter on "Early Occupation" describes Smith's command of Paducah. Smith reprimands  General E. A. Paine after his command's return from their demonstration in connection with the Battle of Belmont. Smith's troubles continued with events involving flying a Confederate flag at the former residence of General Lloyd Tilghman. Regrettably, the author did not supplement this chapter with information from General Smith's new biography, Teacher of Civil War Generals - Major General Charles F. Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant.

My favorite part of Paducah and the Civil War is the chapter on General Grant's ill advised General Orders No. 11. In the order, Grant basically expelled all the Jews in the military district of western Kentucky, western Tennessee, and Mississippi. The order condemned all Jews for "orchestrating an illegal trade of Southern cotton." A delegation of prominent Jewish citizens from Paducah appealed to Lincoln, who quickly had the order rescinded. Grant's edict cast yet another aspersion on his character.

General Nathan B. Forrest
Perhaps the highlight of Cashon's book is his description of General Nathan Bedford Forrest's attack on Paducah. The author carefully traces the story during the March 1864 assault. He describes the events at Hospitals 1 and 2 in fine detail including the treatment of the nurses and seizure of supplies. The balance of the chapter deals with military actions against Fort Anderson. Unlike other Union forts that succumbed to Forrest's "charms," Colonel S. G. Hicks "respectfully" declined "surrendering as you may require." The battle ensued with guns from the Union forts and gunboats shelling buildings around Fort Anderson. The city's residents suffered greatly and many escaped across the Tennessee River to Illinois. Forrest paid a high price for the attack including the death of Colonel Thompson and perhaps 300 killed and 1,000 to 1,200 wounded.

General E. A. Paine
Cashon's narrative concludes a chapter on guerrilla warfare and General Eleazer Paine's "reign of terror." Emboldened by Forrest's attacks, guerilla warfare increased. Neither side seemed safe and the occurrences seemed more the part of common robbers than strategic attacks. The author directs our attention to the activities of General Eleazar Paine. Paine was placed in command at the urging of the Union League of America in Paducah. They wanted Paine because of his harsh treatment of secessionists. Paine unleashed a vicious campaign on the citizens that appeared to be more akin to ransom and profiteering than restoring order. Fortunately, he was brought up on charges and replaced by General Solomon Meredith.

Unfortunately, Cashon's epilogue does not provide answers to many questions. Did the Jewish merchants return to Paducah? How did the city rebuild? What was the impact of Freedman's Bureau? How were the city's politics affected by war and reconstruction? Perhaps, Cashon will answer these questions in a volume about Paducah during Reconstruction.  A current city map showing places mentioned in the book would have been a worthy addition.

John Cashon has deep roots in Kentucky and the Confederacy. His second-great grandfather fought with Forrest. John attended Paducah Tilghman high school and received his bachelor's degree in history from Murray State University.