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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/18/21

Refusing America's Democratic Ideal, Part II

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

One cannot study Reconstruction without first frankly facing the facts of universal lying; of deliberately and unbounded attempts to prove a case and win a dispute and preserve economic mastery and political domination by the character, motives, and commonsense of every single person who dared disagree with the dominant philosophy of the white South.

W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880

On May 9, 1865, the Civil War ended. The North won and the South lost. Enslaved Blacks, freed from the plantation economy, were ill-prepared for freedom. Over 110,070 died.

And counting continues.

W. E. B. Du Bois questions what actually ended in 1865. Enslaved Blacks, for the most part, began freeing themselves and continued to do so throughout Reconstruction and beyond, despite the brutal enforcement of legalized segregation. In Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 , (1933), Du Bois sets the record straight. Americans knew slavery was inhumane. Would any white American join enslaved Blacks in the fields as fellow chattel? However much gifted historians have labored in an effort to justify the disenfranchisement of Black Americans, there remains the business of "the refusal."

" The price of the disaster of slavery and civil war," left unpaid, writes Du Bois, results in an America that "today" suffers for that refusal" to pay. What did Americans refuse to pay, if not democracy itself. It refused to do "what 'was humanely'" necessary. The inhumane refusal links this nation's use of violence toward Black Americans to its insistence on preserving the brutal regime of an economy that can only refuse rather than embrace democracy.

One of the most egregious outrage to happen against the democratic ideal happened on September 7, 1867, when President Andrew Johnson "extended full pardon to Confederates." As a denial of the brutality and the injustice suffered for generations by enslaved Blacks, the pardon of the Confederacy, Du Bois suggests, the message was heard loud and clear. Particularly by the freed Blacks. Du Bois need only look around in his own time, hear the message behind those "for Colored only" signs in the South. He could hear it in the North whenever "Blacks Need Not Apply" signs barred Blacks from employment. In 1867, America was willing to ignore its own Constitution and deny Blacks justice.

In addition, Du Bois notes, "there was not a single labor voice raised in the Southern post-war clamor." Johnson, acting as if leader of "the peasant-farmer and the laboring class," is flattered by the wealthy classes of former slaveholders and merchants and bankers in the South. The economical poor whites look to him, and he looks to the Southern capitalists. To wine and dine with the Southern aristocracy, Johnson pushed on.

Between Western liberalism and Southern reaction and ultra conservatism, Johnson rejects, "in any form," the right of Blacks to vote. Whether or not the Blacks were freed or enslaved, with the right to vote or confined to Black codes, for Johnson and the capitalists in the North and the South had adjusted to a new America in which it was the "tremendous new and rising power" organizing "wealth and capitalist industry in the North." As a force to be reckoned with, the Northern capitalist industry had already extended a life raft to former plantation owners.

As Du Bois argues, while capitalists, north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, closed ranks to protect its financial interests, the abolitionists, "not enemies to capital,"were celebrating a victor. In pursuit of their own "freedoms," white abolitionists left the lecture circuit believing that their "humanitarian causes" of the day, such as "the 'labor question'; the 'peace question'; the emancipation of women, temperance, philanthropy,'" would match those "bourgeois revolutionary" movements in Europe. They went about believing freedom focused everyone's mind; and anti-slavery served as everyone's rallying cry post-Civil War. In a festival atmosphere of celebration, American abolitionists congratulated themselves for a job well done. Few recognized the predicament of Black people in America.

B ut, as Du Bois explains, there were two notable exceptions, two former abolitionists worth acknowledging for their pursuit of democracy. Senators Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner met the wrath of those backed by the big capitalists. And it was as vicious as any war with bayonets and cannon balls.

Neither men, writes Du Bois, "could get the aid of industry, commerce, and labor" to support Black suffrage. Deep pockets, Stevens and Sumners believed, could overcome deep-seated animosity towards Black Americans. But s omething that should have been front and center and accomplished with easy, something that should have been the first thing on the agenda, in fact, had to be forced into the stage. Still front and center. How hard could it be to pretend not to see the newly freed Black people!


Yet, again and again, the issue of Black voting rights is rejected. In 1867, the South refused to hear of it! "They said, in effect," Du Bois explains, that they would see "no Negro citizens nor voters; no guaranty of civil rights to Negroes; and [that] all political powers based on the counting of the full Negro population" should be ignored.

As Du Bois suggested, the Federal government could have stepped in, calling in the "Federal police" since the South was experiencing "industrial, civil and political anarchy." Such a plan would certainly have pleased both Stevens and Sumners. Johnson, however, recognizes one class of menas men. And as president, Johnson lived to refuse assistance to Black Americans.

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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