First Image

I’ve been dutifully reading the manuals for the new camera, even though in some cases it is high order calculus to my primitive mind.  Still, I wanted to show something for the expense and the effort, so…here is the first image, from Saturday evening.


Whenever possible, I like to start with something DRAMATIC!

Biting Bullets

Okay, so today was the day.  The Day.  After procrastinating for many reasons, both rational and just perverse, Donna and I plunked down our plastic and walked out of ye olde camera emporium with my new camera.  I’ve been talking to people, some of them extremely knowledgeable (internet wave to Jennifer—“Thank You!”), and reading blogs and consumer reports and websites and agonizing and today it culminated in A Purchase.

Was a time, mind you, that this would have been the cause of a couple of days of decision-making.  I used to be one of the Go-To people about matters photographic.  If I needed a new piece of equipment, the only question was, could I afford it this week or did I have to wait a few more weeks.

But this was a chunk of change, an issue of moment, and on something of which I am less than qualified.  After having dipped into as much printed material as I could stand, I ultimately had to go talk to a real live salesperson and Make A Decision.

Rob at Schiller’s Camera was very helpful a couple of weeks back.  Salesman after my own heart.  He answer my questions, didn’t push, took out camera after camera for comparison, and new his stuff.  After a couple hours, we’d narrowed the field to two, and after going over all the relevant stuff afterward, I made my choice.

A Canon EOS 60D.  My new machine.  I’ve spent most of today reading the owner’s manual and playing with it.  It will take a long time to master all the stuff this thing will do, but I can already take a photograph with it and this will only improve.  (I’m an intuitive kind of guy when it comes to this sort of thing.  Take it out and road test it, carry it as an extension of my limbs and eyes for months on end, snap away thousands of frames, learn the mechanism until I can make the necessary adjustments reflexively.  Just there’s a lot more to learn on this than I’m used to—and it will make movies.)

I haven’t put up any new images on the Zenfolio site in a bit.  It will still be a while before I do—I have to download the new software for the file transfers, get used to how these files work in Photoshop, and actually, you know, take some new pictures I think worth showing The World.  But the next new gallery will be from this beauty.  It’s an impressive camera.  It feels right.  I think it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

“I do not like Home School and Ham…”

Ken Ham is the head of Answers In Genesis, an organization that promotes and perpetuates the Creationist view that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, that homo sapiens sapien  trod the same ground at the same time as dinosaurs, the the story of Noah is literally true, and that evolution is All Wrong.  He’s an Australian and a biblical literalist.  He built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in 2007.  Check the link for an overview by an (admittedly) biased source, but for simple clarity is hard to beat.  It is a fraud of research, flagrantly anti-science, and laughable in its assertions (in my opinion).

Ken Ham is one of the more public figures in our current national spasm of extreme religiosity.  He’s attempting to have built another show-piece in Kentucky, a theme park based on Noah and the Flood.  The problem with this, however, is that tax dollars are being used in its construction and it is a blatantly religious enterprise.

In the meantime, Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis have recently been disinvited from a conference on homeschooling.   There are multiple ironies in this, especially since, on the face of it, Ham and these particular homeschoolers would seem to be sympatico on the issues.

Be that as it may, it prompted me to make a couple of observations regarding this whole phenomenon.  According to the Home School Legal Defense Fund,  homeschooling is a growing practice.

it is estimated that the annual rate of growth of the number of children being homeschooled in the U.S. is between 7% to 15%. Reports from 1999 determined that approximately 850,000 American children were being home schooled by at least one parent. This number increased again in 2003, to over one million children, according to the National Center for Education Statistics National Household Education (NHES). NHES compiled data showing that in 2007, over 1.5 million children in the U.S. were home schooled.

There are several reasons for this, but the most stated are:

Religious or moral instruction 36%

School environment 21%

Academic instruction 17%

Other 26%

Questions of violence, socialization, academic standards, and related issues play into these decisions.  Not all homeschooling is, as is popularly thought, conducted for religious reasons, but certainly religious homeschooling gets the lion’s share of the publicity.

I have the same reservations about homeschooling as I have with special private schools that seek to isolate students from the wider community.  Despite the problems with “the world” to put an informational barrier between a child and that world can put that child at a disadvantage later.  But I can’t argue with the sentiment that many public schools are dysfunctional and do a disservice to students.  The 17% of the sample opting for homeschooling for academic reasons probably have concerns with which I’d agree.

The more people pull their children out of public education, though, the less incentive there is to fix that system.

I’m torn on this.  I’m largely self-educated.  But the foundation of my education was laid in public schools (K through 4th in public school, second half of 4th through 8th in parochial school, 9 through 12 in public high school).  I had many problems with school when I was in it, and later, upon review, some of those issues I decided were justified.  I certainly felt at the time better read than my English teachers.  (This was a false impression based entirely on the syllabus they were allowed to teach.  I was certainly better read than the syllabus.)  There were distortions in all my history classes, some of which I took issue with at the time.  The administrative side was annoying and the classes I would have desired to take were either truncated or unavailable.  I got most of my education from books read on my own initiative.

But that doesn’t mean this is in any way a recommended program for most students.  Part of the academic experience is and must be socialization (although I firmly believe most of the problems we have with public education today stem from the fact that in America the primary purpose of school has always been socialization, often at the expense of academics, and we’re paying for this unacknowledged fact today).

What profoundly disturbs me about the 36% of those who homeschool for religious reasons is precisely the problem presented by people like Ken Ham.  Parents who reject science as an enemy to their religious beliefs do neither their children nor this country any good by isolating their children and inculcating the distorted views presented in the name of some sort of spiritual decontamination.  What these parents wish to tell their kids at home is their business—but there is also a vast pool of legitimate knowledge about the world which needs to be taught if these kids are to have any chance at being able as adults to make reasoned and rational choices, for themselves and for their own children and for the society in which they live and work.  Few parents have either the time or the training to do this, at least in my opinion, whether they are certified or not, simply because they are only one voice.  Much education happens in the crossfire of ideas under examination by many.  The debate that happens in a vibrant classroom setting is vital to the growth of one’s ability to think, to analyze, and to reason.  The by-play that will likely not happen between dissenting viewpoints or between different apprehensions of a topic won’t happen in isolation.

Ken Ham tends to bar outside viewpoints when he can.  He has a history of banning people from the Creation Museum when he knows they are antagonistic to his viewpoint.  In the face of overwhelming evidence, he tries to assert a reality that has long since been shown to be inaccurate.  That he was barred from a conference of folks who will then educate their children in those same inaccuracies is an irony of epic proportions.  But, as they say, what goes around, comes around.

Slogging Through

I’ve been going through this novel like a reaper, cutting and slashing, removing viscera, changing things around.  It’s fun so far.  The request was to knock between 50 and 100 pages out of the manuscript, which roughly equates to between twelve and twenty thousand words.  So far I have flensed the text of seven thousand.  This may sound like a lot, but the book was nearly 140,000 to start with, so it can lose a little weight and probably be much better for it.

The weather has been beautiful and since I am working in my front room, by the big picture window, it’s been pleasant.  At the rate I’m going I ought to have a new draft of the book in a few more weeks.  At which point I have a half dozen other things in need of tending.

Meantime, as well, I’m slogging through Paul Johnson’s Birth of the Modern: 1815 – 1830.  It is the estimable Mr. Johnson’s contention that these were the years which gave birth to our modern world, the period during which everything changed from the old system to the new, and, 400 pages in, he’s making a good case for it.  Of course, any historical period like this is going to have some sprawl.  He’s had to go back to just prior to the American Revolution and look forward to the Civil War (using a purely American point of reference, even though the book is attempting to be global).  I can think of worse markers than the end of the Napoleonic Era for an argument like this and he is certainly one of the more readable historians.  Occasionally his observations are a bit surprising, but in the main this is a credible piece of work.

I read his Modern Times a few years ago and found it very useful, even though some of his interpretations of major 20th Century events I found surprising.  As always, it is necessary to have more than one source when studying history.  Interpretation is a bay with hidden shoals and can be perilous.  But this one is a good one.

Just updating.  Go back to what you were doing.

Rewrites and Retirement

For the next several weeks I’ll be engaged in rewriting a novel, one I thought I’d finished with a few years back.  One of the frustrating things about this art is that often you cannot see a problem with a piece of work right away.  It sometimes takes months to realize what is wrong, occasionally years.  You work your butt off to make it as right as possible and then, a few years and half a dozen rejections later, you read it again and there, in the middle of it (sometimes at the beginning, once in a while at the end) is a great big ugly mess that you thought was so clever when you originally wrote it.  You ask yourself, “Why didn’t I see that right away?”  There is no answer, really.  It looked okay at the time (like that piece of art you bought at the rummage sale and hung up so proud of your lucky find, but that just gets duller and uglier as time goes on till you finally take it down with a sour “what was I thinking?”) and you thought it worked, but now…

This is what editors are for.  This is what a good agent is supposed to do.  This is the value of another set of eyes.

Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing.  And I have the time because last week I “retired” from the board of directors of the Missouri Center for the Book.  I served for nine years, five of them as president.  Per the by-laws, after nine years a board member must leave for a time.  This is vital, I think, because burn-out is like that manuscript you thought was so perfect—sometimes it take someone else to notice that everything’s not up to par.

During my tenure as president, a few changes were made, Missouri got a state poet laureate with the MCB as the managing organization, and a cadre of new board members revitalized the whole thing.  Look for some good programs to come out of them in the next few years.

What I find so personally amazing is the fact that I got to do this.  I mean, be president of essentially a state organization.  Small budget, sure, but it is connected to the Library of Congress and we do deal with the governor’s office and what we do has relevance for the whole state.  I started out doing programming for them and for some reason they thought I should be in charge.  Well, that’s a story for another time.  Suffice to say, I have no qualifications (on paper) for that position.  None.  The first year I got the job I characterized my management approach as throwing spaghetti.  Something was bound to stick.

It was an education.  And I got to work with some very talented people and made some friends who are inestimable.  My horizons were expanded and I was able to play in a sandbox of remarkable potential.

The timing couldn’t be better, though.  I have this novel to rewrite and, as it is the first part of a projected trilogy, I thought I’d go ahead and finish the second book after I fix the first one.  Yes, there are things in the offing which I shan’t discuss right now—as soon as I know anything concrete, you will, should you be reading this—and Donna has graciously cut me another several months’ slack to get this done.  She is priceless.

Meantime, I may be posting here a bit less.  Not much.  But a bit.

Stay tuned.


This will be fairly brief.  I found myself once again disappointed in a fellow critter.  I don’t know his name so I can’t “out” him, nor would I even if I did.  Up until last week, I rather enjoyed encountering him when I walked Coffey—he was always smiling and always had a treat for her.  But I am now taking routes at times designed to avoid him.

I thought I’d heard all the racial epithets going around, but he had a new one and as we walked about two blocks together he used it and complained about the people to whom he referred in a general “Them” rant that turned me off.

I grew up in South St. Louis at a time when the city was struggling to come to terms with its racial mix.  We had some violence here in the late Sixties and I remember after Dr. King’s assassination that several of our neighbors “stood guard” by sitting on their porches with rifles, shotguns, and pistols, “just in case.”  Just in case never happened, so no one got shot, but the black-white tension was palpable and even today you can feel it despite the fact that St. Louis is becoming a fairly integrated city.  It has been a long time since I’ve heard certain terms out of doors, in mixed groups and I certainly never expected (perhaps naively) to hear a brand new one.

Somehow I never really internalized the bigotry, but I have to confess that at times I felt it, more from those around me than anything from within (although I experienced the first waves of public school integration in the early Sixties and had an event that could very easily have set a pattern of discrimination).  My grandmother was a self-righteous racist who talked about a slave-owning branch of the family with a weird kind of nostalgia, but I grew up and got over it and by the time I left high school I simply didn’t think that way anymore.

It helps being an outsider from the major groups and cliques.

So when I encounter it now, I am usually startled.  I have to shift mental gears to accommodate what I’m hearing and it’s always disagreeable at best, often repulsive.

Here’s how I think—people can be assholes.  Leave it at that.  Your ethnic origins have nothing to do with it.  White assholes, black assholes, brown, yellow, what have you, assholes are assholes.  It is both pointless and ignorant to identify an entire group on the basis of one or two assholes, especially when the salient feature of disregard is a behavioral trait shared by all—an asshole is an asshole.  I treat people as individuals.  Granted, in certain conversations, general statements of certain groups about common group characteristics can be valid, but none of that is genetic and to conflate race into the mix for the purposes of discrimination or the venting of animosity is childish, crude, and flat wrong.

The thing is—and perhaps this is a generalization, but I’m speaking now of the long list of personal encounters I’ve had with people who indulge this kind of thing—people who feel compelled to belittle others through the use of epithets are often themselves failures in one way or another and all they’re doing is trying to make themselves have value by comparison with those they regard as their natural inferiors.

There are no “natural” inferiors.

I just wanted to say something about this.  I find it sad that we still—still—haven’t gotten over this, and maybe we never will completely, but damn.

The Debate: part seven

In an earlier post on this topic I made the claim that the thing which changed everything in this country was the rise of capitalism as the dominant economic model.  It’s time to make good on that claim.

Firstly, we need to understand, once and for all, just what Capitalism is and how it is misunderstood in these sorts of discussions.

Capitalism is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of practices under one general heading, practices like mercantilism, industrialization, and interest-based lending.  But to be precise, all these different practices overlap but are not themselves capitalism.

Capitalism is the strategic use of money to determine the value of money and thereby transfer latent wealth from one sector of an economy to another.

This simple distinction does much to explain the animosity throughout the 19th Century toward any kind of centralized bank, including the Jacksonian war on the United States Bank, and Jeffersonian suspicion of corporate power.  It is nothing less than the ability of a small group to determine the value of local currency and the buying power of a community, all through the manipulation of currency exchange markets (like Wall Street), regardless of intrinsic values of manufactures and production.

But we have so conflated this with all other aspects of our much-vaunted “free” enterprise system that to criticize capitalism is seen as an attack on the American Way of Life.  It is not.  Although many Left attacks on it become hopelessly mired in broad attacks on wealth, it is not so much an attack on wealth per se—that is, wealth based on the prosperity of a community—but wealth derived at the expense of the community.

Which is what we are seeing take place today.  Which has taken place often in our history.

The difficulty is, this has been one of the most successful economic systems ever for creating prosperity, especially for the individual who understands it and works it, and, if properly regulated, has been the foundation of American achievement, at least materially.  So any critique can be made to seem like a critique of America itself.  This fact has been useful to plutocrats defending their practices against attempts to rein in and control abuses.  The coupling of what in extremes are parasitic practices of economic pillage with grass roots patriotism has been the most difficult combination to deal with in our history.  In its contemporary guise, it couches itself in an argument that socially responsible community-based efforts to address economic and resource inequality are Socialist and therefore fundamentally un-American.  This is historically inaccurate and strategically manipulative, but the bounds between the anti-federalist sentiments that began even before the revolution and became quasi-religious among certain groups in the aftermath of the Civil War are many and strange and need teasing apart to understand.

The central myth of our national ethos is this: an American is self-made, independent, capable all on his own of creating his life and success and by virtue of a unique freedom from government interference has made a success not only of his personal life but of the country as a whole, being a nation comprised of millions of separate, vital, omnicompetent, self-motivated, natural-born geniuses.  The fact that the frontiers have generally been initially settled by independent people who faced the challenges with little or not help from a central government, and that many if not most of them succeeded in creating viable homesteads that eventually melded into vital and prosperous communities feeds this myth with the substance of reality, although never a reality consistent with the myth.  Through successive waves of redefintion as each frontier became “back east” how the myth played out in the popular imagination changed while leaving intact the core idea that an American builds his life all on his own and the worst thing that could happen was for a government to interfere with that process.

The reality was always different.  We could examine the process of frontier community building in detail and find variations, but a constant has always been the call for military aid in confronting Indians and the second generation establishment of courts of law enforcement as quickly as possible once something resembling a town emerged.  The “independence” was in force only until such time as a community identity developed that could collectively request all the services these settlers were presumably fleeing in their westward quest.

Because the fact was, what these people overwhelmingly were doing was going in search of independent wealth—not here defined as a capacity to own their own leisure but rather the ability to provide a dependable source of provender and security.  They came for the land.  They came to be free of eastern industrial wage-penury.  They came to own something outright.  But most recognized they could not be secure in that ownership without the body of law and the structure of government to defend it, maintain it, and make it viable over many generations.  While it may be true that some groups fled the east to get away from certain government practices, the fact remained that as soon as they could they erected a government, taking those elements they thought workable and, hopefully, leaving out what they disliked.  Eventually, it emerged that they needed much more of what they left behind than perhaps they originally thought—but the whole purpose of petitioning for statehood, which was a popular movement, was to secure the benefit of federal laws that sometimes restricted the abuses of territorial governments but brought the benefits of a national law system that was seen as superior to local, often improvised, systems.

Perhaps the epitome of the independent American in popular myth is the Mountain Man.  But even here, a close examination shows that the most prominent and successful of these apparent hermits were anything but social self-exiles.  Many were educated businessmen.  They hazarded extreme hardship and risk to bring to market products they expected would bring high prices.  They depended absolutely on the communities popular fiction suggests they had no use for.

This is not to say there were no such men of lore, but they were singular examples and not an example of the norm.  To suggest that our national economy and politics should be constructed to accommodate their example is absurd, but it seems that is often what the Right is suggesting.

However, despite the trend, there were and are pockets of entrenched resentment to any and all government.  I have identified sources of these strains—political, religious, and economic.  They feed into a river of anti-federal thinking that is often simply contrarian, but not to be lightly dismissed. Many of these can be loosely described as Libertarian, but even that can be deceptive.

The threads are these:

Because of British law that forbade westward settlement and then imposed taxes on unrepresented colonists, a strain of resentment toward government that seemed to favor external concerns over citizen’s concerns fed into the break with England.

Because of Alexander Hamilton’s experiment in internal taxes and community engineering to establish a national industrial base at the expense of subsistence enterprise, there developed a suspicion of all central government and taxes.

Because of the Millennarian nature of many of the religious movements in America, parallel ethics developed—one that tied Christian probity and salvation to hard work and disinterested success, the other that elevated moral prerogatives above secular law and rejected interference from the larger community in matters of law, behavior, and individual rights.

Because of the perceived imposition of modes of living and commerce by the North on the South after the Civil War, a pool of entrenched resentment toward federal governments was created that worked continually against the hegemony of Washington D.C.

These threads, combined with the myth of the American, created a large, often disparate, and usually unorganized base of people poised to resist anything that smacked of a national paradigm emerging from the federal government.  Along with this you can add intransigent tax rebels, racists, and a vein of self-educated conspiracy theorists, all of which adds up to an ill-defined but persistent Right at the grass roots level.

The recent element is organization.  From the mid Seventies on we have seen a growing coalition of all these disparate groups into a unified block that has consistently voted Republican.  Since the mid Sixties and Johnson’s revolutionary civil rights activism drove the Southern Democrats to join and become a large part of a diminished Republican Party, the core of of the Right have sought a base from which to attack liberalism in general, social reconstruction in particular, and a little more than a decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act they found their core constituency in the Moral Majority, which combined most of the religious components of a revitalized conservatism.  Under Reagan, who successfully rallied the anti-federal sentiments—government is the problem—these religious reactionaries joined the fiscal conservatives and the anti-federalists to become the foundation of our contemporary, ever-more reactionary Right.

What has happened since Reagan, however, is even more troubling.  What began in many instances as a grass roots reaction to government and social change has been manipulated by the moneyed interests to target government regulation and tax structures that barred corporate pillage.  By feeding an angry voter block with the idea that their causes are one with the top two percent, they have successfully distorted the national dialogue to their advantage to undo decades of financial regulation and now are mounting a growing and evermore successful attack on all manner of collective activism that traditionally protects and promotes the interests of working class and middle class people.

The historical roots beneath all these different conservative groups extend back to the beginnings of our history, but never before have they all been so successfully merged into a solid block of voters.  But any legitimacy these ideas may have had has been corrupted by the usurpation of corporate manipulation.

The question needs to be asked—if, as it is believed by these groups, big government is a fundamental problem, how is it any different in the case of big corporations?  It would seem obvious that the operative word is Big.  Some corporations, multinationals all, have achieved such a size as to function as de facto nation-states.  Except for the fact that they have no national boundaries, they meet all other criteria.  Yet no one seems to be addressing this reality.

Another question—if it is the desire of the Right that government be stripped of its ability to address equity issues, who then will do that work?  Because the government stepped in initially because no one else could.  Arguments over the ethics of states’ rights fall when it is remembered that states did not address civil liberties issues.  It required federal intervention to assert what should have been recognized as not only the law of the land but common decency in matters of race, gender, and economic disparity.

A final question for this present essay—why is it that people who are losing ground economically, socially, and institutionally seem so willing to vote against their own interests in support of a false representation of what America is?  That is a more difficult question to answer and I will not here attempt to do so.  In this and the last six posts I have laid out the historical threads of the Right’s current manifestation.  Conclusions may be drawn from there.

I will address one thing here.  I said corporate pillage.  We have been witnessing since the Eighties large and growing transfers of wealth from the community to private hands.  We have been told that these transfers have been necessary to keep our private institutions from collapsing and causing even more havoc.  In a case by case analysis, there may be some truth in certain instances, but overall this has been a con.  I say this because the transfers came largely with no conditions on the recipients and practices which produced and exacerbated the calamities of 2008.  To pay for these transfers, the Republicans have waged a persistent and successful battle to defund and end programs which they claim we cannot afford.  Here, however, is a chart that shows the dollar-for-dollar transfers.  However one may feel about the nature of the programs affected, it is obvious that this is in no way to the general taxpayer benefit.  This is all special interest, corporate plunder, and in return programs that enable the possibility of social equity and potential upward mobility among struggling Americans are put in jeopardy.  When the Right bleats about class warfare, here is where it is actually being waged.

The issue of tax fairness is a constant in this country.  In the last few decades, the rhetoric has been added about who is benefiting and why certain people have the right to benefit from “my” taxes.  It sounds like an equity issue.  But the way it plays out is an excuse to extract wealth from the community.

Let me explain.  It has to do with a concept called latent value.

Latent value can best be understood as the wealth held in reserve, stored, if you will, after periods of labor to build.  “Unmarketed” value, so to speak.  We tap into this each time we take out a home equity loan.  The assumed value of your property is used as collateral to guarantee the fungible manifestation of the loan.  We have paid into the property over years.  More than that, we have maintained it, added on, upgraded, taken care of it to maintain or improve that value.

The same is true for entire communities and a business taps into that latent value when it opens its doors.  It hires people from the community, relies on the roads, the electricity, water, sewer services.  It utilizes local government offices for licensing, inspection, zoning.  It depends on the laws of that community to protect it from arbitrary attack, it uses the banks to underwrite its operations, and on and on.  The community as a whole is a resource and it “lends” part of its latent value to the business.

In return, that business owes it to that community to add to its latent value.  This is done in a variety of ways, including taxes that can be used to maintain or add services and infrastructure for public use.  If all works as it should, the business gets to generate a profit from what it does and the community gets value added from the new activity.  Both benefit.

That has in many instances changed.  At a certain level, there has been a de facto repudiation of this relationship on the part of business.  Some of this has always been the case, but it has not reached such criminal levels since before the Great Depression.

What is happening now is that business is extracting wealth from the community.  It is leaching the latent value out of the community.  This is sometimes known as “WalMart Syndrome.”

Let me describe it as it happens in business.  Say Company A comes in and buys Company B.  Company B has existed for decades, it has a successful product, employs a few hundred people, but has recently been struggling (or, what is ever more common, it has gone public and the shareholders are not happy with their returns).  Company A is in a position to acquire it.  This could be a good thing—with the greater resources of Company A, Company B could once more become healthy, and continue on.  That is, if Company A is at all interested in continuing Company B for the profits is generates as a going concern.  (Please note—there are many Company A’s who do just that, take a struggling smaller firm, fix it, and make it profitable again.  I stress this point because I want it clear that this system can work.  What more often happens is not necessary!)

However, the aim of Company A is to extract the latent value out of Company B as quickly as possible.  The operations are reorganized.  Maintenance is cut back to the bare minimum and in some instances eliminated completely.  Staff is laid off.  Production is increased.  The cost of manufacturing is drastically lowered per unit.  As things break, they are not replaced.  The good name of Company B continues to sell the product on the open market until it becomes clear that all the cuts have resulted in an inferior product.  When gross sales dip below a certain level, the company is shut down, everyone laid off, and the remaining stock sold as salvage.  Company B is destroyed, but before it is gone the wealth is has built up, latent in its very substance, has been extracted in short order by Company A and added to its bottom line.

All this is driven by shareholder and corporate greed.  No investment is made in Company B at all and in the process a great many workers lose employment, and, depending on the size of the community in which Company B exists, the local town may be terribly crippled.

The continual assault on taxes with the concomitant bribery by communities to attract businesses that then fail repeatedly to invest in that community even while they use the resources—the latent value—of that community is exactly the same process and it is tearing this country down.

It is not Socialism that we expect investment that seeks to raise the standards and expectations of the people in general, and the payment of taxes, horribly distorted because of the special deals made to a small number of extremely rich entities, is not punishment but a way to raise the value of the whole.  We are no longer a frontier country.  That mythology is being used to convince people to vote in such a way that the latent wealth embedded in our national fabric can be more easily converted into transferable funds and extracted by those with no sense of responsibility to anyone but themselves and their own class.  (And not even each other—at this level, they will pillage and ruin one of their own just as readily as an essentially defenseless middle class or poor community.)

Because the strains of historical animosity and intransigence that have existed throughout the two plus centuries of our existence, the Right has managed to codify and effective propaganda campaign to destroy essentially progressive, socially responsible government, all to the benefit of a class that may well establish themselves as a new aristocracy, with feudal powers.  The only thing that is enabling all this is superior organization and obsessiveness.

It should be obvious by now that all this Right wing activism has nothing to do with anyone’s rights.  Everything that functionally protects the rights of people who do not own their own wealth—in other word, the ninety-five percent of us who work for a living because we can’t live on the interest from our holdings—is under attack.

But the one thing that needs to be understood in all this is that to push back is not to repudiate the idea of American success.  Making money, succeeding, is not at issue.  What is at issue is a resurgent capitalism that no longer has a country.

The Debate: part six

We need to make one more side trip into the 19th Century.  The Civil War.

No other event so defines us.  I would argue that not even the Revolution is as important to who we are today as the Civil War is.  This event, along with World War II, established the national identity in ways with which we still struggle to accommodate today.

Shelby Foote, in his majestic narrative about the Civil War, pointed out the central change of the aftermath.  “Before the war, we said ‘the United States are.’  After, we said ‘the United States is.'”  A simple enough thing to say, but to comprehend the meaning is to understand that the country underwent a fundamental realignment of perspective.  It was a shock, a stunning blow to what had been an assumed association of separate nations in a voluntary coalition.  The most prominent of the Virginia Founders spoke often of their country, by which they meant Virginia.  When Jefferson Davis asked Robert E. Lee to assume overall command of all the Confederate armies, Lee refused, saying that he was willing only to defend his country—Virginia.

This separateness went without saying until the Civil War.  When South Carolina seceded and fired upon Fort Sumter, they assumed the position of a separate country at war with another one.  All the states that seceded took it as given that they could leave the Union any time they chose.  Lincoln decided that ratification of the Constitution and all that went with the establishment of a federal government that represented all the states as one nation argued against that presumption.

The opinions over the issues of the War continue to be debated.  Was it over slavery?  Was it over the presumed right to be free of federal interference?  Certainly for most of the foot soldiers of the South, slavery was hardly and issue, but the idea that federal troops could march into their states and tell them what to do was.  These men were ill-served by the people who instigated secession, who knew very well what the issue was about, and often cloaked their defense of an economic system in the rhetoric of liberty and revolutionary politics.

We need not rehash the Civil War here except to point out that the issue was slavery, though in most ways it was not about the slaves.  This is perhaps a slippery point to grasp.  The institution of slavery was crippling the ability of congress to function across national lines.  The five-eighths rule gave southern plantation owners an unwarranted electoral advantage even while they denied the rights they were exercising to the people they used.  But it was the increasing rancor over the admission of states to the union, whether they would be free or slave, that drove the South finally to break with the United States.  The way of life of the major propertied citizens of the southern states was directly threatened by northern industrialization and the westward expansion of free state settlers.  Eventually, their ability to maintain a useful majority in congress would be eroded to nothing and domination by free state politics would start undoing them financially and socially.  The sticking point was slavery.  It had to go.  The north was beginning to “carry” the south.  Things had to change.

The moral issues coincided this time.

But what concerns us here is what happened afterward.  Functionally, the United States of America assumed prominence across all state and territorially borders and, at least implicitly, federal law trumped state law.  Reconstruction was intended to rebuild the South, both materially and politically.  The program, however, involved military governorships in charge of vast areas of the South—the so-called Satraps—and much that occurred was arbitrary, experimental, and occasionally capricious, fueling the resentments left over from defeat.  It is within this time frame that we first see the sentiments of “taking our country back” expressed by embittered southerners who hated the federal government and the north for essentially destroying their way of life.

The Ku Klux Klan and other clandestine groups notoriously struck back locally to nullify many of the emancipation measures, but what concerns us here is the political action taken by southern politicians who carried out a propaganda campaign over several years that tied federal programs to corruption.

This was certainly nothing new.  There had always been a degree of mistrust over Washington’s handling of money and public programs.  But the southern Democrats did such a thorough job of connecting the two things in the public mind that “government project” automatically meant “corruption!”  There was, by the time they finished, no way for there to be a federal program that wasn’t corrupt—the idea became an oxymoron in the public mind, especially in the south and subsequently in the west.  It was one of the most successful campaigns of its sort ever and it has lingered with us to this day.  In the wake of that, the issue of State’s Rights became bigger and bigger.

This was almost wiped away during the Great Depression.  FDR became a savior to many people and “government aid” lost much of its former opprobrium during a decade of extreme need and effective federal aid.  World War II cashed in on some of that new-made good will and, along with the other patriotic sentiments of the war years, brought this country together in ways it never was before and has drifted from since.

In the wake of both the Great Depression and World War II, federal activism increased as never before.  The ability of the central government to address problems of national concern achieved an almost unquestioned dominance.  The failure of traditional approaches to economic downturns, periods of recession and depression that had plagued our economy throughout in boom and bust cycles, was finally demonstrated sufficiently and laws passed that it became a given that some control over what had been regarded as “natural” cycles could be exerted to the benefit of the entire country.  With the economic boom and world dominance that came in the wake of World War II, America entered a long period of federal triumphalism which finally broke with the high inflation and interest rates in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the effective challenges to American global hegemony demonstrated by the OPEC oil embargo.

But the pool of resentment left over from the Civil War never disappeared.  It found purchase in the Cold War and expressed itself as skepticism of government in general, using the example of Soviet-style dictatorship as the gold standard for the inevitable result of excess federal control.  The mania of the McCarthy Era was only one, very prominent example of the push back against the federal government, with its continued accusations of deep infiltration by the politically suspect in the Washington bureaucracy.  With each new wave of federal override of local prerogative—in education, in voting, in civil rights, in race equality, in First Amendment issues over free speech and religion—the assertion that these actions were part and parcel of a worldwide communist conspiracy informed the frantic reaction on the part of people who had inherited the cultural resentment of government in general.

It came to a head under President Johnson when he pushed through the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and the southern Democrats as a block deserted him and became the core of a revitalized Republican Party.  From that point on, their strategy has been simple—to seize on any issue that can be made to look like federal usurpation of local or even individual rights.  What this amounted to was a culture war, because the resentments all were directed at social legislation and court decisions that seemed to run counter to common values.  But as the movement continued, it was clear that much more was at stake than simply drawing a line against a changing culture that no longer approved racism, gender discrimination, or arbitrary censorship.  As the Seventies became the Eighties, the Right included in their list of “corrections” any economic measures that could be seen as “leveling” measures—anti-unionism increased, attacks against federal financial rules increased, news organizations that did not appear to support a conservative, business-friendly program were attacked or purchased.  The role of money became dominant.

What had happened clearly was that the financial sector had found a useful foil in the social reactionaries who were attacking the dominant federalism on cultural grounds.  Corporate strategists found they could easily usurp social anger and make it one with a desire to roll back fiscal controls in place since the Great Depression, by aligning the rights of the wealthy with the rage of social conservatives.

All of which goes back to the post-Civil War resentment of disempowered elites who felt they had been stripped of their natural rights to dictate community norms.  It was not until the massive union movements that sprang up during and after the Gilded Age, coupled with Theodore Roosevelts activist trust busting, that the wealthy of the north and east found common cause with this reservoir of anti-federal resentments.  They were derailed by the Great Depression and it took a couple of generations and the mischaracterization and fear brought about by the Cold War before an effective momentum could be achieved to regain traditional patrician privileges and strip the middle class and the poor of any ability to redress social and economic inequities.  The success of the movement can be seen in the numbers of disenfranchised blue collar, middle, and lower middle class people who vote the programs of this group in complete rejection of their own best interests.  Somehow The Enemy has become anyone who advocates higher education for all people, economic controls, and great personal liberties, including a free press not dominated by corporate interests.

I’ll see if I can’t wrap this up next time.

The Debate: part five

The fervor with which assaults on liberalism are launched of late possess a zealotry difficult to understand in any reasonable sense.  There is a religious element to it, a battle of ideologies that seem to leave the precincts of fact, data, and logic very quickly, often on both sides.  The inability of Left to talk to Right is the equivalent of the sectarian babbling between any two apparently irreconcilable religious groups, both of whom insist on their point of view being not only correct but the only one.

After decades of more or less rational political discourse in this country, many people have been caught completely by surprise at the level of bitterness that, upon examination, seem unsupportable by the issues (with the possible exception of abortion—but even that is ramped up far more than it ought to be given the middle ground of contraceptive use).

Where did this come from?

Once more, we look back to the early republic.

When claims are made that this was established as a Christian Nation, such claims are both right and wrong. Wrong in that the structure of law and institutions created in the aftermath of the revolutionary war are the most secular such governmental constructs ever created. The establishment of the United States as a nation is not Christian or any other religion, and this was done very intentionally. More, perhaps, as break with all European traditions in which religion was politicized and churches were arms of the government, conjoining common faith with political hegemony, but nevertheless those who claim that the United States, in the form of the Constitution and the subsequent offices and conduct, was established as a Christian edifice are flat wrong.

However, the fact that this was a country of Christians is undeniable and the fervor of religious embrace was profound.

The old grade school lesson that the first colonists came here to escape religious persecution is mostly true.  It doesn’t go quite far enough, though, and explain that these religious exiles were themselves probably more religious than the states from which they fled, states where religious observance was akin to a loyalty oath.

Which is, of course, how you get debacles like the Salem Witch Trials where you might expect a more rational approach.  The Enlightenment veneer that overlay the revolutionary period and informed the political philosophy that manifested in the Constitution was pretty much just that—a veneer.  City-bound for the most part, once you got out into the hinterland, on the frontiers, religious sentiment was a living, breathing reality that was as if not more important than any political principles in currency at the time.  For many Americans of that generation, Liberty meant the freedom to worship God without a bishop or priest telling you where, when, or how.

Coming to North America must have been a surreal experience for these people.  They had come from a crowded, dirty place—just about any city in Europe at that time—where they had constantly to worry about the next upheaval that would require a realignment of political (and sometimes religious) affiliations.  Disease, high mortality, sometimes opulent wealth within walking distance of soul-crushing squalor.  But for the most part a world that had become and was becoming more urbanized.  Making landfall in the New World must have been like time travel, taking them back to a primeval land of myth.  No buildings, no roads, nothing to indicate human beings had ever been there, huge, dense forests undisturbed by the axe.

Many brought with them a full suite of superstitions about old forests and just trying to live here must have required unbelievable courage—or unimaginable desperation.  But they made a go of it, cut some trees down, built the first villages, and after a hundred years the east coast was beginning to look a bit like the world they had left.

But in pushing back that frightening forest they had clung to their faiths and relied on it hourly.  Many early colonists believed Satan lived in those forests, and certainly many of the encounters with the near-naked natives who didn’t seem to know the first thing about God or Jesus did nothing to dissuade them of that idea.  Pushing that forest back was not only consistent with their belief in Improvement but necessary to keep the devil a little further away.

By the mid 18th Century, The Great Awakening gripped the colonies, a series of revival movements spurred by open-air preaching based on emotional reactions to arminian accommodations embraced by the seaport cities that were becoming comfortable with material success.  In a way it was a repeat of the movement that caused early pilgrims of Presbyterian and Calvinist theologies to cross the Atlantic in the first place.  The daily struggle against the unknown happening in the rural frontiers was poorly served by churches that preached a moderate, calming theology with a God that seemed less and less concerned with sin in the face of worldly success.  What happened in the hinterland evoked comparisons to the “heretical” movements of the Middle Ages which the Catholic Church worked to subdue and ended up with in the massive splits of the Reformation.

In his examination of the market phenomena that defined much of the early Republic, The Market Revolution,  Charles Sellers writes:

“Our secular mythology renders almost incomprehensible the religious mythology that organized experience for early rural America.  The gnostic cosmology and stoic resignation of peasant forebears, who likewise lived at the mercy of nature and invoked its fertility with daily labor, sacralized the behavioral norms demanded by the subsistence mode of production…for centuries peasant animism had magicalized the patriarchal Christian God who reconciled Europeans to hazards of weather, terrors of plague, and exactions of fathers and rulers.  The Protestant Reformation revitalized this magical patriarchalism to cope with the Old World market’s initial surge.  The awesome Jehovah proclaimed by Geneva’s Protestant theologian John Calvin was brought to the New World by uprooted emigrants and preached from Congregational meetinghouses of New England Puritans, the Presbyterian kirks of the Scotch-Irish, and the Reformed churches of Germans, Dutch, and French Huguenots.  Calvinism’s thrilling promise of divine encounter sacralized deep springs of animistic magic and mystery to arm rural Euro/Americans with invidious power against capricious fate.  The more vividly they felt Jehovah’s omnipotence, the safer they felt in a hazardous world.”

Preachers like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards took the Message to the wilderness, creating a surge of revivalist meetings that poured from New England southward, sweeping rural populations into the fold of highly emotional religious experiences, complete with swooning, ecstasies, visions, possibly glossolalia, all of which offended the stabilizing, order-hungry seaboard churches which reacted both from the pulpit and legislatively, fueling the growing political embrace of strict separations of church and state.

By the time of the revolution, although the revivalist movements had fractured and splintered into numerous disputatious denominations, a basic sympathy existed informing all of them with the idea that God was not the property of the government, that in fact God disapproved of governments that interposed law between individuals and what they perceived as the natural right to encounter creation without intermediary or interpretation.  (This latter sentiment came to inform the idea that the government should, in fact, say nothing whatever, pro or con, regarding religion, and ought to remove even the appearance of favoritism toward either specific faiths or religious experience in general.)  A tremendous pool of resentment toward the government on this issue rippled beneath the surface of all other resentments that combined to cause the break with England.  The colonial governments were often seen as collusive with the King’s government in this regard and there was no doubt an expectation that this would be redressed once independence was achieved.  (It took a while—direct state sponsorship of certain churches did not end for some time, although the federal government had removed itself from such connections.)

It was the Second Great Awakening, which began after the establishment of the United States and ratification of the Constitution that created the odd coupling of capitalist zeal and religious fervor.  Competing traditions, old and new, sought to achieve dominance in a rapidly expanding nation that quite obviously embraced worldly success as a natural right, one of the chief goals of the revolution.  In Europe, the established churches, as arms of the state, muffled themes of denouncing the world and its attributes, a trend that could be trace all the way back to the first establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion of Rome.  Governments did not wish to discourage wealth-building because this was a source of political power.  The older churches had long since found accommodation with attention to money and rarely preached against self-improvement, at least among the merchant classes.  This same trend was taking place in America where seaboard financial dynasties were emerging and the class-free society that had been in place in practice if not legally for a long time promoted wealth-building across all social lines.  Interest in salvation appeared to wane with the rise of temporal comfort.

The successors of Edwards, Samuel Hopkins and Timothy Dwight in particular, wrestled with the fact that mercantile growth was inevitable and followed the frontier like a wave, and with it a, to them, diluted religious apprehension known as Deism.  Deism was an Enlightenment accommodation which greatly diffused religious experience, rendering it almost a wholly philosophical matter rather than one of spiritual rebirth.  It was Deism that permitted the Founders to avoid the question of a national religion in drafting the Constitution—a movement hard to argue with given the antipathy of the rural settlers to any state sponsored church—but which the inheritors of Calvin found spiritually troubling.  They feared an abandonment of Christianity as worldly success and comfort grew.  The Second Great Awakening restarted the revivals, took them further west, and south, as a firebreak to a perceived ambivalence to spiritual matters in the east.

The central difficulty of keeping religious ethics in the face of successful nation-building affected both traditions and the older churches, in New York and Boston, adopted some of the rhetoric of what was called the New Light, and took advantage of the new printing technologies to create the first wide-spread Bible and Tract Societies.  For a time, Bibles were the largest selling book throughout America because they were the cheapest, along with the tracts accompanying them.  Mass printing drove the price per copy down drastically and endangered all other forms of popular publishing except newspapers.

The battle was between Enlightenment rationalism—which was concerned with man’s rights in this world, now—and the emotionalism of Millennarian religious experience, which proclaimed that the concern must be on the state of the soul for the next world.  In Europe a similar confrontation was occurring which would result in the rise of Romanticism—a more or less secular embrace of emotionalism over rationality—while here is resulted in an entrenched Evangelicalism, centered not on the primacy of sentiment and emotionalism concerning the self and the world but on the emotionalism found in a rebirth in God.

The accommodation that emerged was one that coupled all the driving ambition of worldly success with a strict self-abnegation—temperance, chastity, and a severe scrupulousness in business—that made the only sanctified outlet of worldly ambition the very success in business that had a generation before been seen as the biggest threat to spiritual matters.

This engendered a reversal of certain themes—for instance, the Millennium, the return of Christ to Earth, now became something that had to happen before Jesus came back, not when—but the success of this led to half a century of expanding church attendance and the growing influence of religion in political movements, i.e. abolition and temperance.

What this meant for our present examination is that a pool of religious sentiment tied to Millennarian anticipation, rejection of rationalism, and an embrace of antinomianism (the belief that one can be so possessed of grace/salvation that manmade laws no longer apply) became a popularly maintained constant.  The antipathy against government is fed by this select exceptionalism to give this group a belief in the rightness of their cause from a source irredressable in secular institutions.

The 19th Century is littered with small groups of religious isolates who chose westward migration rather than life under a growing secular government.  Most failed, but some became notable successes—the Mormons for one—but by and large all these groups have been partially absorbed into mainstream American life.  They bring these traditions with them, of course, just as any other self-identified group does.

What effect this has in practice is a manifestation in the belief in a higher law that overrides the legislative, judicial, and common law and seeks to challenge institutions on the basis of what could be seen as a “natural law” position.  At almost every turn, with a few prominent exceptions, this has been a defense of status quo not politically so much as culturally.  (On both sides of the slavery issue we find strong, entrenched religious sentiment dictating moral positions.  While abolition can be seen as revolutionary, at base it was very much a defense of the doctrine of voluntary salvation and the denigration of “worldliness” by people from a Congregationalist-Puritan-Quaker tradition.  However, the net effect was revolutionary.)

I’ll go over what this means to us today in the next part.

The Debate: part four

We left off with the Whiskey Rebellion, which more or less blew up in Alexander Hamilton’s face.  The tax he pushed through congress on whiskey that triggered the entire affair was shortly thereafter repealed and it was a while before the federal government tried to impose internal taxes.  One of the stated goals of the revolution was to end taxation without representation, but in practical terms this meant an end to taxation, period.

The federal government used tariffs and land sales to pay off the debt incurred by the revolutionary war.  Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana was still done by a combination of the two plus borrowing.  Generally, tariffs were kept low, to encourage volume of trade.  Some high tariffs were employed in the 1820s and 1830s as protectionist measures to level the field with Britain, which was in the midst of its “workshop of the world” period.  The South hated these tariffs because it raised the price of manufactures and shipping, which impacted on their trade which was almost entirely agricultural.

It was different in the states.  Property taxes early became a source of state revenue.  The definition of “property” for the purposes of such taxes stretched far beyond the bounds we would recognize or accept today and under Jackson came to include just about anything a person owned.  Local reaction to such impositions varied by city and state, but rarely rose to the level of rebellion.

Federal internal taxes did not come into play until the Civil War.  The need to raise revenue in huge amounts and quickly necessitated the creation of the first income tax, among others, including a vast array of excise taxes and licensing.   There were special corporate taxes, stamp taxes for legal documents, and inheritance taxes.

Most of these were phased out after the Civil War.  Interestingly, the Republicans—a new party formed just before the Civil War which became the second national party, supplanting the archaic Whigs—kept two elements of the new tax system: high tariffs and taxes on liquor and tobacco.  High tariffs were protectionist measures.  The excises on liquor and tobacco were not greatly challenged because they coincided with the growing Temperance Movement, which was becoming politically significant.

(Also interestingly, calls for reform led to a new income tax in 1894.  However, the Supreme Court, in Pollock vs Farmers Loan and Trust Co. ruled it unconstitutional.  The income tax became a popular movement and led to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, legalizing a federal income tax, which was ratified and passed in 1913.)

With World War I, taxes were passed for the first time on corporate income and taxes on wage earners were rejected.  The balance seemed then to be in favor of taxing wealth.

So what changed?

Let’s back up for a bit and look at the aftermath of the Founding Generation.

With the election of Thomas Jefferson as president, Federalism seemed to be in retreat.  The swift program inaugurated under Washington, by Hamilton, and continued under Adams of centralizing national affairs in a strong federal government was denounced and Jeffersonianism embraced.  Federalists were seen as partners with industrialists and corporations, the party of money, in opposition to the small freeholder.  After the debacle of the Whiskey Rebellion, internal taxes on the federal level were seen as tools to corral independent artisans, farmers, and small merchants under a corporate umbrella and establish a tyranny.  New lands opening to the west gave the impression that no one need bow to central authority, not even on the local level, if they had the wherewithal to pick up and move.

During this period, two things were going on that fed directly into the American obsession with wealth.  The first one is easy enough to understand—the relative ease with which it was possible to make a great deal of money here, because of the complete absence of legal class boundaries.  That and the extremely open economic policies of the early republic—laissez-faire capitalism, which suffered no government constraint.  Among the positive effects of this, of course, came down-sides, namely the rise of speculation, initially in land deals through various companies with their roots back before the French and Indian Wars.

Speculation was then and continued to be a scourge, and yet it seems to be ineradicable, mainly because it’s tied inextricably with our ideas of market freedom.  Nor is it always a bad thing.  Speculation can concentrate attention, organize work, and produce a desired effect by calling attention to a project that needs funding and supporters.  But it just as often destroys individual aspirations, damages communities, and artificially creates divisions which can sometimes linger for generations, especially when it comes to land.

Arguments and court fights over claims for tracts of land almost defined the migrations into the Ohio Valley and Kentucky, then later into Georgia and Alabama.  Settlers moved into lllinois in such numbers that almost 75% of it was claimed by squatters, making it a fait accompli that took decades more to undo.  Federalist jurists favored large, single landowners who could then sell small tracts and generate profits that could be used for further expansion along lines that fell into step with Manifest Destiny sentiments.  It was in the interests of the federal government to unload land to large purchasers rather than get into the business of becoming a banker for thousands upon thousands of individual buyers, many of whom might find it difficult to pay in specie.  Questions of currency from state to state and in the territories complicated any such arrangement and in this the federal government became collusive with speculators for perfectly understandable reasons.  The federal government was using the sale of tracts to augment funding sources and for that a reliable payment schedule and solid currency was required.

But the principle of “Improvement” was very much at the fore in everyone’s mind and this is what drove national policy even from the earliest Colonial days.  It was the idea of Improvement that determined the fate of the native peoples.  Improvement was bound up with Christian principles of moral behavior and fed into the second of the two trends I’m examining in this essay.

The idea of Improvement was the conviction that a moral man should take wilderness and turn it into productive land, for the good of the family, the community, possibly the country, but also because this was the charge given by God to Adam.  Wilderness was viewed as a test, as the raw material to build a christian community.  To find yourself in the midst of wilderness and do nothing to “improve” it—cut down the trees, put the land to the plow, build houses, roads, etc—was sinful.  Hence the native Americans were viewed as “fallen” because they didn’t improve the land.

(A good deal of missionary work was done all through the Colonial and into the post-Colonial period to teach Indians how to do this and there was considerable success.  Many tribes, seeing the writing on the wall, quite ably adapted themselves and built towns and turned to intensive agriculture.  That these efforts were mostly ignored and later destroyed—the worst example being what happened to the Cherokee in Georgia and Alabama—is the consequence of whites refusing to admit that simple Improvement was ever the point.  If the money did not flow into white hands, if the power remained vested in the townships, then the work had to be denied and eradicated.  Proof that the Indians could do what they were told was expected of them had to be denied at every turn.  Their inability to adapt was maintained, even in fictional form, as evidence that whites had to have the control.  To be sure, this did not simply fall on the Indians—many small, isolationist white communities ended up similarly destroyed by syndicates and large-scale speculators when these tiny efforts stood in the way of large-scale profiteering.)

The land companies formed before and after the French and Indian War were vested in moving Indians off the land and selling it to settlers.  The federal government became the “owner” of these lands and sold huge parcels to these companies or even to individual speculators.  Local battles staged by individual settlers or groups of settlers who could afford to hire attorneys raged against these essentially absentee landlords and various accommodations were made based on varying degrees of improvements.  One basic complaint was the right of the person living on the land and working it in opposition to the man who simply “owned” it on paper.  This evolved eventually into fights between individuals and cartels, fights we still see playing out today.

But in this way, speculation and the federal government grew into a symbiotic relationship that proved awkward at times but maintained a momentum throughout much of the 19th Century.  Andrew Jackson belatedly tried to disrupt this relationship with his war on the United States Bank, with the result that the one good thing the bank was doing—stabilizing currency—was ended and whole regions of the country slipped into depression due to an inability to maintain stable currency on their own. Jackson was an opponent of the centralized role the government was playing in dispossessing small landholders through support of blanket policies favoring big concerns, banks primarily.

It was during this period that sectional conflicts began to grow into serious threats to the Union.  Morality aside, this went directly to the matter of property.  Slavery had been a subject of intense division from the very beginning, the north largely opposed to it, the south claiming it a necessity.  Southern states had threatened to leave the Union should any move be made to outlaw slavery—which could only be done federally if the states were not willing to do.  Some states did ban it, but mostly such states had not relied much on it for labor in the first place.

Using the rhetoric of individual liberty, southern slaveholders became more and more strident in their denunciations of northern “interference” in the presumed rights of property owners in the south.  The fact that the south was engaged mostly in plantation agriculture complicated matters, because this type of farming—mostly for cotton—was incredibly debilitating to the soil.  As the soil was exhausted, plantations had to move west to new fields.  The question of how new states would enter the union—slave or free—became an issue of life and death for southern plantation owners and fueled the conflict.  As western lands were opened by the federal government to more settlement, small landowners were faced with the prospect of competition from large slave-owning concerns that could potentially outcompete them (in the short run) and buy them out.  (Something similar happened later in the range wars over cattle.)  Also, most new settlers, who were buying land from speculators in the north, carried with them a religious conviction that slaveholding was wrong.  The companies selling them the land were anxious to assure them they would be settling in land that would be free, otherwise land values might plummet.

All this was further exacerbated by the railroads that were getting tremendous quantities of federal land as leeways, which often cut through communities or just as often bypassed them, which lent another layer of life and death to the equation.

In every respect, the federal government drew some fire from just about everyone.  Washington favored the railroads over and above settlers’ rights.  Washington was becoming aligned with the north against the agrarian south because of industrial influences that challenged southern economies and controlled shipping costs.  Washington supported slavery because it refused to do anything legislatively about it.  In just about all viewpoints, Washington was in the center of what was wrong.

What was wrong was simply that the industrial revolution and capitalism were gaining irresistible momentum and eventually the nonindustrial south would find itself isolated, bought out, and dominated by Yankee corporations.  The only tool they possessed to fight it was through Congress and the only advantage they possessed was the five-eights rules which allowed slaveholders to vote their slaves as representing five-eights of a man each (which included the women, coincidentally, making a profound irony in a country that still denied free women the right to vote).  The south fought every national project that came before Congress, seeing such things as blows against them.  They lost as often as they won, but the lines were drawn.  It was becoming increasing difficult, though, to move legislation through Congress and the south’s position threatened infrastructure projects.

The south saw itself as the proper heirs of the revolution, the Jeffersonian version.  But the yeoman freeholder had grown into bloated plantation owners who not only lorded it over their slaves but also made it very difficult for the true individual landowner to make a living.  Even so, southern politicians successfully drew a connection between plantations and small farmers to make the case that all of their lifestyles were in danger from northern aggression, making the impoverished southern farmer a patriotic ally to the master of Tara in confronting Washington federalist domination.

In this were the seeds of modern anti-federal sentiment.  When the Civil War broke out, these sentiments grew into deep philosophical resentments, which Reconstruction cemented in place.  Washington D.C. became evil incarnate, to be fought at every turn, and the fiascoes of Reconstruction congresses fed the divisions with continually filibustered legislatures and the presumed corruption under Ulysses S. Grant.

But if the Civil War was the flower of national unity in action on behalf of the citizens—and to large extent it was—then what happened to eventually turn even the north against the federal government?

Well, it didn’t happen right away.  After the Civil War and with the completion of the transcontinental railroad, private enterprise and federal policy marched in lock-step as never before until the end of the Gilded Age and the days of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting.  It was after WWII that the problems began again and to understand that we have to look at the Second Great Awakening and the “christianization” of wealth-building.  Next time.