Sunday, October 04, 2015
Being a history geek, i have been seeing many parallels to just before the Civil War in today's situation.
Buchanan (always a contender for "worst president ever" a position he held until gwbush reopened the competition) was faced with an incredibly polarized congress. Everyone was clearly in one camp or the other with zero common ground to be negotiated.
The slavers (fuck calling them "The South" they were fucking slavers) not only wanted to expand slave territory, the slavers of the Carolinas wanted to reopen the African Trade (and flagrantly disobeyed the nonimportation laws), and were constantly trying to do things like sieze Cuba, Nicaraugua, and other Central and South American territories to expand the geographical reach of their system. This was because their main cash crops were incredibly hard on the farmland they currently occupied, but it was also because while their economic model benefitted a very few very well, it was destructive to all other forms of commerce. A few slavers opened factories with slave labor, Thomas Jefferson famously had a nail and a brick factory at Monticello, but, because slave labor was so cheap there was never an incentive for anyone else to open a productive factory and there was also no incentive to modernize or increase production in the existing factories because slaves were cheaper than machinery, and even if someone else began production nobody had any money to buy things. The very few that had wealth were already served by the few in production and what they didn't produce they would import.
The sole issue the slavers were divided on among themselves was the question of African importation. Virginia (which included West Virginia still) was doing quite well with its slave breeding industry (think of the most horrific puppy mill you can imagine, make it for humans, multiply by 10 and you might get close to the level of depravity) and had a huge economic stake in keeping the price of slaves high. The tobacco, cotton, sugar, indigo, and rice plantations of the Carolinas and Louisiana needed cheaper slaves, and longed for the days of free imporation when they could simply work their slaves to death in two or three years and then replace them with the cheap imports.
Charleston had a policy that they applied to any ships, including ships of the French, Spanish, and British navies, that required captains to turn over any sailors of color to the local authorites to imprison them during the stay of the vessel. They also had to pay for that imprisonment, and many free blacks were stolen from those prisons to be quickly sold off deep into the interior never to be seen again. The white people of Charleston were still very frightened by Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey's insurrections and believed, maybe even correctly, that the mere sight of a free black person could incite another rebellion.
The north was in opposition to slavery itself, but they were also hypocritical in that they profited greatly from the slave system. Northern goods were imported to replace what the slavers could not or wouldn't bother to produce on northern ships that also were the main transportation vessels in the smuggling of new slaves.
The vast majority of the slaver's real wealth was in human bodies, and they were loathe to even consider ever breaking that system. Modest buyback proposals were made, but they would have reduced the slaver's wealth to an unacceptable level.
Compromise had played out with the Missouri bargain. the slavers felt they had gotten a raw deal anyway and began to ram through things like the Fugitive Slave Act which tried to make the antislavers complicit even further in the slave system, and also resulted in free blacks (like Solomon Northrup of "Ten Years a Slave") being kidnapped and sold.
While Buchanan was President there wasn't much at all in the business of the nation that could be accomplished. Every issue that came forward swiftly split along intractable party lines and died. For three years of his term he simply quit trying.
On so many issues today, there is no compromise to be found, no common ground to share. Every gain, by either side is continually expanded and exploited. The demand made is, "agree with me that I'm right" on abortion, gay rights, voting rights, minimum wage, or anything else, and the subtext is that if you don't agree and accept that they are both right and moral in their positions they will just fucking kill you like the godless fucking scum you are.
When political balance, economic balance, and now even the balance of nature itself reach states of critical mass to one side or another, corrections will occur. Those corrections are often swift, violent, and destructive when they do so.
I wish I had a better outlook to offer up, but I can't. Things might ease to a better equilibrium, but those wanting the balance tipped to their favor will never take their thumbs off the scales.