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The original Southern Strategy by @BloggersRUs

The original Southern Strategy

by Tom Sullivan


“Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the batteries of the Confederate states,” 1861. Public domain.

The movement for southern secession arose in part out of slave states' inability to maintain a balance of power in the U.S. Senate as a bulwark for preserving slavery. The admission to the union of northern, plains, and mountain states carved out of the Louisiana territories (and unsuitable for cotton cultivation) threatened to weaken the South's political clout over time.

South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun spoke to the matter in the Senate 171 years ago today on February 19, 1847:

Sir, already we are in a minority—I use the word 'we' for brevity sake—already we are in a minority in the other House, in the electoral college, and, I may say, in every department of this government, except at present, in the Senate of the United States—there, for the present, we have an equality. Of the twenty-eight States, fourteen are non-slaveholding and fourteen are slaveholding, counting Delaware, which is doubtful, as one of the non-slaveholding States. But this equality of strength exists only in the Senate. … We, Mr. President, have at present, only one position in the government, by which we may make any resistance to this aggressive policy which has been declared against the South; or any other, that the non-slaveholding States may choose to take. And this equality in this body is of the most transient character. Already, Iowa is a State; but, owing to some domestic calamity, is not yet represented in this body. When she appears here, there will be an addition of two Senators to the Representatives here, of the non-slaveholding States. Already, Wisconsin has passed the initiatory stage, and will be here at next session. This will add two more, making a clear majority of four in this body on the side of the non-slaveholding States, who will thus be enable to sway every branch of this government at their will and pleasure. But, sir, if this aggressive policy be followed—if the determination of the non-slaveholding States is to be adhered to hereafter, and we are to be entirely excluded from the territories which we already possess, or may possess—if this is to be the fixed policy of the government, I ask what will be our situation hereafter?
Historian John Buescher provides more modern rendering of the slavers' dilemma:
After the War of 1812, the northern, free states' members in the House of Representatives exceeded those from slave states. The slave states reckoned then that Congress could try to outlaw slavery in the South. Their representatives in the House had tried to stave off attempts by that chamber to legislate the abolition of slavery by instituting a "gag rule" which, for years, had blocked abolitionist petitions from reaching the floor of the House, but which had been rescinded in 1844. The South therefore worked out a strategy to ensure that they would not be outnumbered in the Senate. If they maintained a balance in the Senate, they figured, attempts to force the end of slavery on the southern states could be blocked.

To maintain this balance as new territories were admitted into the Union, slave states and free states were admitted, roughly speaking, in pairs: Mississippi and Indiana, Alabama and Illinois, Missouri and Maine, Arkansas and Michigan, and Florida and Iowa. In some cases, the admission of a state was slowed or sped up in order to pair it with another. This practice was the outcome of a strategy that the South considered essentially defensive. The South's primary aim in this was not so much to spread slavery as it was to protect slavery where it already existed. To do that, it had to protect its strength in the Senate, and for that to happen as northern territories were brought into the Union, the South had to find southern territories to balance them. Eventually, this even led some in the South to look for possible ways to annex Cuba and Nicaragua and bring them into the Union as slave states.

When that strategy failed, southern states seceded, explicitly giving the maintenance of slavery as their reason.

Democracy was working against the slave states. History was against them. Demographics were against them. Public opinion was turning against them. They'd deployed every artifice for decades to keep the normal democratic process from making them relics of history. When they ran out of tricks, their response was to betray the union.

One hundred and seventy-one years after Calhoun's speech, the parallels are eerie. Only in 2018, it's not Democrats and not just the South threatening the union. In 1861, a Republican president set out to save it. Today, we have a White House working actively to undermine it with the help of supporters in Congress.

In the face of criminal investigations and unfavorable demographic shifts, today's Calhouns too are deploying every artifice at their disposal to maintain political control — enacting photo ID laws, attacking law enforcement and the press, gerrymandering targeting "African-Americans with almost surgical precision," under-funding the 2020 census, stealing a Supreme Court seat, and more — anything to maintain control except dialing back their extremism and appealing to multi-hued American voters. What happens this time when they run out of tricks?

David Frum writes on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the non-response by the president:

At every turn, Trump has failed to do what a patriotic president would do—failed to put the national interest first. He has left the 2018 elections as vulnerable as the 2016 elections to Russian intervention on his behalf.
With the Russians' 2016 actions documented and their 2018 intentions clear, and with GOP control of Congress vulnerable in November, the choice by Trump and leading members of his party to do nothing begins to look deliberate. Frum all but states that openly. He sees Civil War parallels too:
Trump’s own tweets reveal that among the things he most fears is the prospect of Representative Adam Schiff gaining the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee from the clownish present chairman, Devin Nunes. How far would Trump go to stop a dreaded political opponent, inside the law and outside? How far has Donald Trump gone in the past?

Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election. We know that they were ready and eager to collude—that’s on the public record. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) The public does not yet know whether the collusion actually occurred, and if so, in what form and to what extent. But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election. You might call it collusion in advance—a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.

In 1861, an extremist American faction in fear of losing control trod the Constitution underfoot and declared war on its own countrymen. Could we see such extreme measures again? Have we already and missed them because they're quieter? This war might not be fought with cannon.

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