Newest Born of Nations–The Short, Unhappy Life of the Confederacy

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The Southern Confederacy was one of the most short-lived nations in history. It was also one of the most poorly planned and poorly defended nations and ideas in history. It was one of the largest self-proclaimed nations to ever be so totally subjugated in so short a time in history. Among nations of the world, it was a major failure as a nationalistic movement.

I say all of this as one who deeply loves the South, admires so many of those who defended the Confederacy, and struggles with the issues upon which the South could have and should have made its case. Although it would leave a huge gap in my book collection, a little more patience and prudence could have enabled the eleven states in the southern regions to have survived and worked through the issues confronting them. Instead, they opted to die in a blaze of glory, which left our heritage with more blaze than glory.

Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy by Ann L. Tucker, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Georgia, is published by the University of Virginia Press.

The 19th century was a busy time for nation building, for independence movements, for revolutionary actions, and for redrawing of the maps of Europe primarily and the Americas. Southerners were long expecting and thinking about the fissures and dividing lines separating their lands and cultures from those of the northern states. Despite so much shared history and so many common connections, there were tensions between the sections of the country. Again and again, these tensions mounted, often spurred by economic activities, often increased by additions of new states to the west, and often intensified by the issues relating to southern slavery.

Southerners looked to the examples and result of nationalistic movements in Europe for both inspiration and caution. The Irish were chafing against the control of their land by the British. Italian states were fighting wars designed to unite the boot shaped peninsula. A multitude of Germanic states were slowly moving toward a unified reich. Poland longed from freedom from Russia and other holders of Polish speaking lands and peoples. And some Southerners felt that the day would come when they too would find it necessary to re-enact the story of the colonies in 1776 and declare and fight for independence.

Just as that earlier War for Independence included Americans who favored staying under British rule, so the South had Unionists who feared and opposed the consequences of breaking away. Debate was, as is typical of deeply felt political ideologies, vigorous on both sides. And both sides appealed to the same European examples for confirmation.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of the greatest of patriots and fighters for his nation’s cause of the 19th century. He led the Italians in uniting their multiple states together. He also ventured into South America to help newly emerging nations there as well.

Southerners seeking an independent nation initially lauded him as an example. But Garibaldi was also so highly admired in the North that he was asked to join the Union in their fight.

James W. Quiggle, U. S. Consul in Spain, invited Garibaldi to join the Union’s fight. “Garibaldi replied that if he were not needed in Italy, he would indeed come first for the United States but only on the condition that he be appointed commander in chief of the U. S. Army and granted power to emancipate slaves. ” Certainly that would have created some fascinating history if it had happened.

As events unfolded, Garibaldi’s criticism of southern slavery turned the future Confederates against him. Besides, as the southern Unionist pointed out, his works were unifying a nation while the plan of the Confederacy was dismantling a nation.

The ideas behind the events make for interesting, but often less easily substantiated or less exciting reading. The successes of Garibaldi’s efforts to unify Italy and the long struggle of the Irish to win their freedom have inspired many a story, poem, and tale. The idea of nationalism, the philosophical underpinnings of such movements, and the clash of ideas form more ethereal history.

Those who long for another adventurous read of Stuart’s cavalry or Grant’s capture of Vicksburg will not be pleased with this book. Those who think that slavery was not even on the charts of causes of the war will be downright angered. This book is, in all honesty, a tedious and scholarly read. Most who would want to know the story would prefer a journal article rather than a 205 page discussion.

But Dr. Tucker leaves little room for dissension as far as I can see. Southerners stepping into a time machine would want to know the content of this book before venturing back to change history. Ideas have consequences (to quote Richard Weaver’s title for the millionth time), and poorly conceived ideas have dire consequences. The ideals that many Southerners touted regarding escape from tyranny and joining the free nations of the world were not accepted by other nations.

The end result was that the Confederacy never gained acceptance and recognition from other nations of the world. Would that have made any difference? Not likely, unless an army of British Recoats had been shipped to Canada along with a number of British battleships to break the blockade. Still there is a role that the international family of nations and international opinion plays in events. This failure of the Confederacy may have not been the camel’s backbreaking straw, but it did contribute to the overload.

The Burden of a Southerner Reading Histories

Here I am once again facing an overwhelming stack of books that I need to be reading and reviewing. Thankfully, one is finished and the rest have all been started. Not so good news: In spite of few actual work hours these days, I still have not been able to carve out enough extra reading hours in the day.

So, this post will feature some reviews and previews and commentaries on the books.

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Newest Born of Nations: European Movements and the Making of the Confederacy by Ann L. Tucker is published by University of Virginia Press.

Eleven states seceded from the Union in 1861 and waged a futile four year war to achieve complete independence. This story is the centerpiece, with all of its causes and effects, heroes and villains, glory and gore, of American history. But what happened in the then fractured United States was not unique in the world of that time.

Wars for secession, nationalistic uprisings, rebellions against a ruling power, revolutions seeking to overthrow the status quo, and fights for freedom occurred throughout Europe and Latin America. The event that preceded and gave the benchmark for all this was the American War for Independence. The French Revolution was another, and vastly different, attempt to change the the world, at least in one country.

Dr. Tucker’s book deals with how Southerners interpreted, supported, and critiqued the events in Europe during the decades leading up and including their own quest for nationhood. No two countries or stories are alike, and the Southern story is heavily weighted by the existence of slavery which was a tension within the greater fight for freedom and nationhood.

The United States had been dancing on this precipice from the beginning. There were plenty of other contributing causes to the Civil War, but the slavery issue was a disaster for Southern hopes and aspirations. One wonders how a free and independent Confederate States of America would have ultimately ended or fought within its own jurisdictions over the issue.

This book is a tough read. I do wish Dr. Tucker had not felt compelled to used the modifiers “white” or “elite white” before almost every use of the noun “Southerners.” She could have shortened the book by 20 pages by not saying what was obvious. Southerners did include enslaved blacks, free blacks, Native Americans, Jewish people, women, children, and others, but the powers that ruled would have been white, male, more likely Protestant rather than Catholic or Jewish, and wealthy people. I think readers would know that when talking about actions of government and debates that the participants, either Southern or Northern, were white.

That criticism aside, I am pressing on in this interesting study. It calls to mind several other books I have and have read, including Eric Hobshawm’s book Nationalism.

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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America is by Timothy Egan.

I stumbled across this book in a used book section of a thrift store. Getting it for less than a buck, I had no idea how good the book would be. One the one hand, it is a horrible tale of a deadly fire that destroyed a huge swath of land in the American west and that killed a large number of people, mostly men fighting the fire, and destroyed several towns.

On the other hand, this book is a reminder of why I read, taught, and love history. As a story, a narrative, an adventure featuring both amazing people and ordinary people forced to do amazing things, this story is top notch. Central to the background of the story are two men–Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. These men were two kindred spirits regarding their vision for the western forests and personal lifestyles. But there were plenty of heroes and heroines who were frontline fighters when the Great Burn of 1910 ravaged the west.

The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism's Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration

The Devil and Karl Marx is written by Paul Kengor and is published by Tan Books.

Having recently read Blessed Charles of Austria, call me a fan of Tan, Tan Books, that is. I have yet to get into this book, other than reading the enjoyable foreword by Michael Knowles. This quote stuck with me: “Ronald Reagan described a communist as one who reads Karl Marx and an anti-communist as one who understands Karl Marx. “

I think it would have been easy to begin ignoring Karl Marx just a few years ago. Other than being a historical figure, he seemed to have less relevance. But like most heresies, and Marxism needs to be seen as being a theological heresy, Marxism did not cease to exist. All it did was go dormant for a season so that it could show up with a fresh coat of varnish and an appeal to a new generation. Wait for more comments on this study.

Baptists and the Holy Spirit

Baptists and the Holy Spirit by C. Douglas Weaver is published by Baylor University Press. This book is subtitled The Contested History with Holiness-Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements.

One might question why I have put this book in a post about history studies rather than a discussion of religious and theological books. But, the book easily fits in either category.

First for a bit of my personal reading history: I got this book a good while ago and eagerly read the first part of it. But the towering stacks of books and Covid and school shutdown and other stuff happened, and I stopped reading. Then I recently picked it back up, but instead of going back to where I left off, I jumped way ahead to read about the effects of the Charismatic movement in Baptist churches in the 1970s.

Second, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I am neither Charismatic, nor a Baptist. So, I have few warning lights blinking in my brain as I read. But I did become a Christian in the 1970s, and I did have several exposures to Charismatic Christians.

So, let me make a few observations. This book highlights on of the most difficult tasks in dealing with religion in general and Christians in particular. That is, it is hard to create a series of defining boxes and then place every prominent believer or denomination in one of the boxes. The whole concept of denominations is a slippery one. It is amusing that some Christians take refuge in saying, “We are NON-denominational.” To denominate is to name and identify, so non-denominational becomes as much as denomination as does any other term.

Then there are the terms that are added in addition to the denominational names. So, one is a missionary Baptist, a Five-point Calvinistic Baptist, a landmark Baptist, an evangelical Baptist, and so on. The same kind of thing happens with other denominations. So, I am a Reformed Presbyterian, but I might share much with a Reformed Baptist regarding Calvinistic doctrines, and he might share a belief in church government by elders or presbyters. Add in eschatological, worldview, role of women, and other issues, and one wonders how Christian history could even be written.

Back to the Baptist issue: Baptist churches are just that–churches. There is no such thing as The Baptist Church, and that term cannot be used either if one is talking about the differing groups of Baptist denomination. And each particular Baptist church has a bit of congregational autonomy. While there are guidelines that would clearly exclude some from claiming to be Baptists, the groups as a whole exercise a wide variety of particulars.

For a survey of a stack of books, I have already said too much. Suffice it to say that this is a fascinating study. I reckon some would glance through a few pages and conclude that all Christians are crazy. We believers have thought that same about ourselves. But for the Christian, there is a beauty and power seen even in the ups and downs, fits and starts, unity and chaos of the Christian Church through the ages. This book is a reminder of just that.

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Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World is by David Keys.

I don’t remember when or where I picked up a gently used copy of this book. But during my summer office move, I pulled it aside from the book being packed and determined to read a bit in it.

This book and The Big Burn, discussed above, were both started from one of my preconceived and now confirmed biases. (You will have to decide whether my confirmation bias is compatible with your confirmation bias.) We are often being told that current ecological and climate events are being caused by the actions of humans. We are the cause in our day and time of more and worse fires in the western United States and of global climate problems everywhere. This is science, we are told, and to doubt the interpretation is to doubt Science itself. (Use of a capital S is deliberate.)

This book deals with global climate disasters and plagues that wracked the whole world in the 5th and 6th centuries. In short, some empires and civilizations fell and others rose. Natural disasters upended cities and peoples. Plagues swept away thousands of lives. Fascinating history, with some insight, maybe, into current events and woes.

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A Military History of the Cold War 1944-1962 and A Military History of the Cold War 1962-1991 by Jonathan House are published by Oklahoma University Press.

In the kind of superficial explanations and bullet point teaching we all do, we explain that the Cold War got its name because the two side did not engage in actual battle, or a hot war. But that handy description is misleading. Thankfully, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was never fully mobilized and engaged in taking on the NATO forces in all out combat across the plains of northern Europe. Nor did the Korean conflict ever escalate into full-fledged war between the United Nations forces and Communist China.

But this long struggle involved many minor wars, skirmishes, “police actions,” and close calls. Both sides were armed to the hilt, but while both sides were able to refrain from using the nuclear options or Mutually Assured Destruction, they did confront each other via a variety of conflicts and pressure points.

I have only gotten to scan a bit in these two volumes. But Twentieth Century history is, according to my claim, one of my special interests. More later on these two volumes from Dr. House, who is not, I am sad to say, closely enough related to me for me to boast about.

Voter Fraud and History Books

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A classic biography, still incomplete, on how politics works and sometimes doesn’t.

Lyndon Johnson adopted as a motto: If you do everything, you win. He learned that political lesson the hard way when he slipped up a bit and lost a Senate race to W. Lee O’Daniel in a special election in 1941. A few years later, when he ran against the popular and principled Gov. Coke Stevens, LBJ won.

He did everything. LBJ cut his teeth politically speaking doing grass roots politics. He was the man who handed out $5 bills to poor Mexicans who were voting for the chosen candidate. There were county judges and particular parts of Texas where you had to curry favor to get the votes. And if the counting was running short on election night, a few extra boxes of ballots could be delivered.

Robert Caro’s four volumes, The Years of Lyndon Johnson should be a part of the canon for political theory, political science, and 20th century American history. (We still await the fifth and probably final volume of this set.) LBJ was talented, and he had his times where he was truly noble and admirable, but he was most often political, Machiavellian, scheming, cheating, lying, deceiving, and fraudulent to the core.

One of the setbacks in his political career was his rivalry and later subjection to the Kennedy’s of Massachusetts. By Joe Kennedy’s standards, even LBJ was a lightweight. Bribes, lies, payoffs, deceits, cover-ups, and Mafia connections were all used to get John F. Kennedy to the White House.

That story is told in several books about the Kennedy’s. In recent years, even those who fawned over the Camelot President have recognized that John Kennedy and company were pretty dog-gone devious when it came to politics (and women).

Among other books, I found The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh to be outstanding, or disgusting, or shocking, or all three. Hersch was not a conservative conspiracy-seeking anti-Kennedy writer. The family was just plain corrupt. The last standing member of the original group, Senator Edward Kennedy, “The Lion of the Senate,” was honored and praised and nearly raised to political sainthood, but both before and after Chappaquiddick, he was cut out of the same cloth as his father and brothers.

Politics would be tolerable if fraud, lies, and deceit were something that was found in the past and among just a few scoundrels among an overwhelming group of statemen. But time would fail us to tell of Richard Nixon, whose greatest calamity was getting caught, and many others who have set out to do good and ended up doing well.

Money and power are connected in politics. People will lie, steal, deceive, and worse over the most minor of events. As the stakes rise in human actions, so does the willingness to do evil.

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In some cases, like the classic novel All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, the character Willie Starks, modeled closely after the Kingfish of Louisiana Huey Long, was a man who used ruthless means to actually do lots of things for the people. Granted, much of what was done was directed to helping the common people.

The story is so compelling that there have been two movie versions made from the book. A great companion volume to the novel is the biography of the actual Huey Long, titled Huey Long by T. Harry Williams.

Another fictional account of political “irregularities” is a short story by Kentucky author Jesse Stuart. I have loved Stuart’s writings since I was in high school, but it was only a few years ago that I read the title story in 32 Votes Before Breakfast. This short story is about a bunch of college boys who, as is typical, needed a few bucks, who are recruited to ride a bus from voting place to voting place throughout Kentucky and vote and vote and vote. And where did Stuart get the idea for this story? He actually was one of a group who did exactly that.

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Time would fail me to recount all of the stories I have read about political shenanigans. And besides all of the accounts I have read about, I have been at least halfway around the block in real life.

From three different sources, none of whom were condemning the practice, I learned that in southern Arkansas politics, one should recruit the African American pastors to transport their congregations to the voting booths. A little gas money–a couple of Ben Franklins–could assure that the votes would be there.

Thank God for American civility. Most of history is the story of murder, exile, threats, and worse in the ups and downs of political power. Work for King Henry VIII and expect to see your political opponents sent to the tower and most likely to the chopping block. Then expect to finally be the one mounting the steps and eyeing the hooded man with the large axe.

Defeated Presidential candidates, even those who were Presidents, defeated governors and senators, disgraced political leaders, and even political people who had to serve jail time are free to travel, speak, write, and even try to regain their lost political fortunes.

So, we are better. But the WHOLE IDEA THAT VOTER FRAUD DOESN’T OCCUR IS RIDICULOUS.

Or else, voter fraud represents the one area of human action where a few laws have cured mankind of sinful and illegal propensities. If it doesn’t happen, then we could have reason to think than people are evolving into better beings. If people no longer labor to steal elections, we have finally hit upon the right combination of penalties and rewards.

Today, is November 15, less than two weeks after the Presidential election. On the one hand, I really don’t want to join the chorus of wailing and raging against President Trump’s presumed defeat in the election. There are so many issues that have been controversial in this election season.

But if one does not think that voter fraud never happens, I wonder what other failures to grasp reality they are suffering from. Typically, the guys behind the scenes become aware of how many votes are needed, and then they “find” what they need to cushion a win. With mail-in ballots, with lack of voter identification, with big cities that have lots of political operators, with the abundance of money, with the abiding fact of Original Sin, why would voter fraud not happen?

Derek Webb (God have mercy on his straying soul) has a great song titled “Everybody is Crooked Deep Down.” The New England Primer states, “In Adam’s Fall, We Sinned All.” Ishmael, in Melville’s novel Moby Dick, said, “Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”

The daily newspaper attests to horrible and endless crimes that people do. Why should we suddenly become squeaky clean when it comes to the vast oceans of power and money connected to politics.

Finally, why should we be surprised when both media people and election officials proclaim with an air of infallibility, “Voter fraud is rare. Voter fraud did not happen. Reports of voter fraud are not proven. There is no voter fraud. There is not voter fraud. There is no voter fraud….”

Literary Conversations Overheard

The Almost Collected Works of Jessica Hooten Wilson

One of the pleasures of having children in college is hearing them talk about the books they are reading, the conversations they have been in, and the professors and teachers they are studying under.

A few years back, my daughter TaraJane was talking with a college friend about a literature teacher at John Brown University. This teacher was described as very smart and very intimidating. TaraJane, if you will excuse my bragging, had made a point in a discussion one day in class and this professor disagreed. But, the professor contacted her sometime after class and told her that upon further reflection, she thought TaraJane was right. I was doubly impressed by the description of how exacting and shart this teacher was and her willingness to contact a student with such a concession.

Further information about this professor indicted that she was a great fan and student of such authors as Dante, Dostoevsky, and Flannery O’Connor. I began to form a conclusion: This teacher had to be Louise Cowan. Of course, that was impossible because Dr. Cowan died a few years before that time and before that had been a part of the University of Dallas. And I don’t believe in reincarnation or visits from the other world to the classrooms of today.

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But I was right, for the teacher had been a student of Dr. Cowan. I am one of the failed Louise Cowan students. I heard her speak on three different occasions. The first time, she was in her late 80s and the second and third times, she was in her 90s. I rank her alongside Greg Bahnsen, philosopher and theologian, as being among the smartest people that I have personally met and talked to.

Dr. Cowan was, one might say, the last of the Southern Agrarians and New Critics. By that I mean that she learned directly from the group of luminaries who turned Vanderbilt University into the Mecca of Southern literary studies. In time, she carved her own niche in the field of literature and the humanities alongside her husband Donald Cowan in their development of the University of Dallas, a Catholic institute of learning.

If I had known, if I had been aware of what was there, if I had been ready and able, I would have or should have crawled on my knees on broken glass in the 1970s all the way from Texarkana to Dallas, a three hour drive, in order to study under Dr. Cowan and M. E. Bradford. (I read their books as penance.)

Dr. Cowan’s study of literature and literary genres impacted a whole generation of teachers, authors, scholars, and professors in a number of colleges and universities across the land. In that last few seasons of her life, when her great mental faculties remained razor sharp and her insights revealed new groundbreaking thoughts to her younger colleagues, Dr. Cowan reached another aspiring literature teacher, Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson.

I should add that Dr. Ralph Wood of Baylor is yet another of the formative influences on Dr. Wilson. I have been acquiring some of his books, but I have yet to enter into the kindergarten stage of learning from him.

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The first book I got by Dr. Wilson is Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Doestoevsky. This book is published by Cascade Books.

The thought of devils and the demonic is a bit frightful at first glance. But be assured that the devil and the demonic is never absent from any piece of literary writing. Be it atheist or orthodox believer, the author of a piece of fiction is either going to bring the devil in as a character, influencer, plot creator, plot changer, environment, or presupposition. To borrow an idea from…Chesterton, I think…a novel that does not have the devil and the demonic in it would be truly an evil book.

Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic author from the 20th century American South while Dostoevsky was an Orthodox author from 19th century Russia. Both wrote self-consciously Christian literature. And both wrote about characters and situations that revealed sin, the corruption of the human heart, the devil, and the demonic. Although they were separated by geography and time, it is easy enough to put a few dashes of O’Connor into any Dostoevsky Russian recipe, and the truly Southern dishes of O’Connor are enhanced by a tablespoon or two of Doestoevsky.

The conversation of the above is carried on in Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevksy, and the Search for Influence. This book is published by Ohio University Press. In this continuation of the study of Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, another 20th century Southern author and Catholic, steps in.

This book begins with the somewhat illusive but interesting topic of how and if one author influences another. Certainly, most authors are well read and usually deeply immersed in the literary canon(s) of the past. And no author is entirely original in his or her writings.

In this case, Percy’s library, notebooks, and annotations reveal that he did feel the weight and work from the influence of Dostoevsky. Sidenote: Percy’s best literary friend was Shelby Foote, a fellow Mississippian. The two often discussed and argued the merits of Russian authors Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekov.

Percy’s writings were more modern in theme and content. Dostoevsky’s style is less explicit and more to the tastes of us old time Victorians. But, the world ain’t pretty and people ain’t nice, so Percy displays the more realistic side of humanity.

A necessary companion volume to the book above and a necessary volume for anyone seeking to go beyond just the story lines of Percy’s novels is Reading Walker Percy’s Novels. This book is published by Louisiana State University Press.

This book is a discussion of Percy’s fiction, with a few notes and an appendix dealing with his nonfiction essay collections. Much of the material here is repeating the discussions of the Percy novels in the previous book.

I must confess that I was sitting quietly at the back of the classroom for this discussion. I have been gathering Walker Percy books for several years, but I still don’t have several of his major works. And, I have only read one novel–The Last Gentleman. Upon reading it, I was not overly impressed. Now understand that when you read a novel that is highly acclaimed and you are not impressed, the best thing is to shut up.

I had to let the novel soak in, and I had to start hearing what others have said about The Last Gentleman. I am not meaning to imply that a normal reader cannot have a worthwhile negative opinion of a classic, but my teaching experience and personal reading experience has taught me the wisdom of learning from others who like what I don’t initially like.

Reading Dr. Wilson’s work on Percy has moved me from being in neutral with my foot on the brake to putting the car into reverse. I need to read Walker Percy’s books. I need to finish a novel and reread what Dr. Wilson thinks about the novel.

Finally, I must confess that I have been hindered from better understanding her books by not having read Demons by Dostoevsky. I have read several of his novels and some of them more than once. When summer began, I was going to read Demons, but summer took me by surprise in this most insane year. I was battling too many changes and setbacks and surprises. Dostoevsky has had to wait. So has Walker Percy.

But when the day comes when I am back in the reading saddle, I will enjoy not only the novels, but the discussions found in books by Dr. Wilson.

Post Script: There is a new book out now titled Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, edited by Donald P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson. This book is published by Notre Dame University Press and sells for a mere $60. I sure hope to acquire a copy of this book by some means. Solzhenitsyn has long been a favorite. It simply has to be yet another great read.