Written: Summer, 1961
First Published: International Socialist Review, New York, No. 2, pp. 48-52, 61- and Summer 1961, Volume 22, No. 3, p. 66.
Transcription/Editing: 2005 by Daniel Gaido
HTML Markup: 2005 by David Walters
Public Domain:George Novak Internet Archive 2005; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
The historical significance of the American Civil War, which began a hundred years ago, has to be appraised from two standpoints: one national, the other international. What place does this immense conflict occupy in the development of American society? And what is its place in the world history of the nineteenth century?
The most penetrating liberal historians, headed by Charles Beard, have correctly designated this event as the second American revolution. But they have failed to explain clearly and fully its essential connection with the first American revolution.
The First American Revolution and the Second
The second American revolution had deep historical roots. It was the inevitable product of two interlacing processes. One was the degeneration of the first American revolution, which unfolded by slow stages until it culminated in open counterrevolution. The other was the rise of capitalist industrialism with its contradictory effects upon American social development.
The interaction of these two fundamental factors, the first rooted in national soil and the second stemming from world conditions, constituted the principal driving force in American history between the close of the first revolution and the outbreak of the second.
It is impossible to understand the necessity for a second American revolution without grasping the dynamics of these two interpenetrating processes out of which it emerged. The first American revolution took place in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The second unfolded in the middle of the nineteenth century. Separated as they were by an interval of almost seventy-five years, these two revolutions are customarily regarded as totally different and completely disconnected events. This view is superficial and false. In reality the first American revolution and the second form two parts of an indivisible whole. They comprised distinct yet interlinked stages in the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the United States.
The bourgeois national revolutionary movement in North America had five main tasks to fulfill. These were: (1) to free the American people from foreign domination, (2) to consolidate the separate colonies or states into one nation, (3) to set up a democratic republic, (4) to place state power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and (5) most important of all, to rid American society of its pre-capitalist encumbrances (Indian tribalism, feudalism, slavery), in order to permit the full and free expansion of capitalist forces of production and exchange. These five tasks were all bound together, the solution of one preparing the conditions for the solution of the rest.
The first revolution solved the first three of these tasks. The Patriots’ struggles liberated thirteen colonies from British rule; the ensuing class contention for power (1783-1788) led to the creation of the Federal Union; the new nation set up a democratic republic. It went quite otherwise with the last two. Although the revolution cleansed the colonies of much feudal rubbish and cleared the ground for the swift growth of American capitalism and American nationality, it failed to place the scepter firmly in the hands of the big bourgeoisie or to effect a thoroughgoing reorganization of American society on a bourgeois basis.
These deficiencies of the first bourgeois revolution were pot immediately evident and took time to manifest themselves in full force. At first the revolution seemed entirely successful and its outcome satisfactory to the Northern capitalists. They had attained the paramount position in the new Republic which they governed together with the Southern planters with whom they had waged the war, written the Constitution, and formed the Union.
But the merchants, financiers and manufacturers proved incapable of maintaining their hegemony. After a brief though important period in supreme authority during Washington and Adams’ administrations, their direct political representatives were compelled to turn over national leadership to the plantation aristocracy. The bourgeois conquest of political power had turned out to be premature. This was confirmed by the fact that the mercantile capitalists were subsequently unable to recover the supremacy they relinquished in 1800 to the slavocracy and had to rest content with second rank.
This dethronement of the big bourgeoisie of the North by the Southern planters provided positive proof of the shortcomings of the eighteenth century revolution. But this political reversal was rendered possible by the underlying social relations and their channels of development. Why was the Northern bourgeoisie unable to hold the predominant position it had won? Precisely because the fifth and most fundamental task of the revolution—the liquidation of all pre-capitalist social forces—had not been completely carried out. Thus mercantile capitalist rule fell victim to the economic backwardness of American society. The first revolution unfolded in a colonial country with a relatively low level of economic development based on agriculture. The contradiction between the extremely advanced political regime in the United States after the revolution and its still immature and unindustrialized economy was the primary cause of the political weakness and downfall of the big bourgeoisie.
The social structure of the United States at the end of the eighteenth century was a composite of slave and free labor, of pre-capitalist and capitalist forms and forces of production. To complete the reconstruction of society along bourgeois lines, it would have been necessary to break up the soil in which slavery was rooted. This proved impossible under the prevailing conditions. The slave interests were sufficiently powerful at the time of the revolution to prevent any tampering with the institution in its Southern strongholds and even to obtain constitutional warrant for its perpetuation. The opponents of slavery could do no more than restrict its scope by providing for the abolition of the foreign slave trade at the end of twenty years, for emancipation in certain Northern states where slavery was of slight economic importance, and for its prohibition within the unsettled Northwestern territories.
Chattel slavery was becoming so unprofitable and burdensome a form of production to many planters toward the close of the eighteenth century that opponents of slavery consoled themselves by looking forward to its withering away in the South as in the North. The problems it presented would thereby have been automatically resolved by a gradual transition from slave to free labor.
These expectations were nullified by the rise of King Cotton. This economic revolution in Southern agriculture imparted such virility to the moribund slave system that its economic masters and political servants not only wrested command of the national government from the Federalist bourgeoisie with the accession of Jefferson to the presidency in 1800 but managed to maintain their sovereignty unimpaired for the next sixty years.
The struggle for supremacy between the pro-slavery forces centered in the South and the free labor forces headed by the Northern bourgeoisie was the decisive factor in the political life of the United States in the period bounded by the two revolutions. From 1800 on the big bourgeoisie kept ceding political ground to the planters. Supreme political power inevitably gravitated into the hands of the economically predominant cotton nobility. The capitalists could not regain their lost leadership until the economic development of the country had produced a new combination of social forces strong enough to outweigh the slavocracy and its allies and then to overthrow it.
Thanks to the achievements of the revolution and to exceptionally favorable international economic circumstances, the United States took tremendous steps forward during the first half of the nineteenth century. The productive forces of the nation, agricultural and industrial, slave and free, grew by leaps and bounds. The gains accumulated as a result of the revolution and the ensuing economic progress were distributed, under pressure from the people, in the shape of numerous small gradual democratic reforms. This part of the planter-bourgeois regime was a comparatively pacific period in domestic politics. The chief disputes which arose among the governing classes (including those issues directly pertaining to slavery) were settled by compromise.
Around 1850 a radical reversal of these processes set in. The rise of large-scale industry in the North and the expansion of small farming in the Northwest upset the economic equilibrium upon which the planters’ power had rested and led to a new correlation of social forces. Goaded by the prospect of losing supreme power and by the economic decline and social disintegration of the slave system, the planting interests absolutely opposed themselves to progressive tendencies in all fields of national life. Their despotism became increasingly intolerable. Not only the Negro chattels but the entire American people were being made the victims of the arrogant, unrestrainable slave owners. To check this growing reaction and to assure continued progress in the nation, it was imperative to break the grip of the slave power.
The most eligible candidate for leadership in the fight against the Southern planters was the second-born of the bourgeoisie, the manufacturing class. This section of the capitalists had long been striving to regain the position of political supremacy in the U.S. which its elder brother, the merchant aristocracy, had lost in 1800. The smoldering struggle between the planters and industrialists, which flared up periodically, had been smothered by compromise in 1820, 1832 and 1850. With the organization of the Republican party in the fifties, the industrialists launched their final struggle for the conquest of supreme power.
Two methods for delivering the people from their bondage to the slave power were proposed by representatives of different social strata in the North. The spokesmen for the ascending industrial capitalists hoped to depose the planters by class compromise and by peaceful constitutional means after the precedent set by the English industrialists in the West Indies. The political agents of the British manufacturers had come to terms with the landed aristocracy at home, as well as with the West Indian planters, and in 1833 instituted compensated emancipation of the slaves in the English colonies by parliamentary enactment.
The American way of abolishing slavery, however, was to differ from the English. Nor did it follow the course of political and social reform envisaged by the conservative Republicans. It took the revolutionary trail pointed out by the radical abolitionists. These pioneers of the second revolution reflecting the views of the plebian democracy (small farmers and wage workers in the North and the chattel slaves in the South) advocated root-and-branch extermination of the slave power.
Very few Americans considered so radical a program desirable or so drastic a prospect feasible during the fifties. But the alarming aggressions of the slaveholding reaction and the sharpening of the social crisis swiftly transformed the general outlook. In its early stages the slaveholding reaction developed upon the political foundations laid down by the eighteenth century revolution. But the democratic institutions had become unbearable fetters upon its activities which the slavocracy yearned to cast aside.
Southern secessionism, the frankest expression of these reactionary tendencies, aimed at nothing less than a total reversal of the aims and achievements of the first American revolution. Its program explicitly called for an unconditional denial of its democratic and equalitarian principles, the destruction of the Union, and the shackling of the nation’s productive forces to the anachronistic slave system. Secession implicitly entailed the abandonment of representative republican government and even threatened the loss of national independence to the imperialist vultures of Europe, France and England, hostile to the Union. Thus all the gains of the earlier revolution, embodied in the most prized traditions and institutions of the United States, were threatened by this retrograde movement.
The victory of the Republican party in the presidential elections of 1860 and the ensuing departure of the slave states brought to a head the struggle between the Southern planters and Northern bourgeoisie, the pro-slavery and anti-slavery camps, the counterrevolution and the revolution. The secessionist coup d’etat revived all the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, including those which had presumably been forever settled.
At this critical point three main perspectives opened out before the American people. A victory for the Confederacy would have effaced the remnants of the revolution and fastened the hated dictatorial rule of the slaveholders over all America. Another ineffectual compromise between the contending camps would have permitted the struggle to drag along and exhaust the people. A victory for the revolutionary forces would clear the way for a cull and final disposal of the unfinished business of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
The developments of the Civil War soon excluded any middle course or ground for compromise, leaving open only the two extreme variants. The favorable alternative triumphed. The bourgeois Republicans, who had taken power on a program of restricting the slave power, found that they could hold it against the assaults of the Confederacy only by resorting to increasingly revolutionary measures leading to the overthrow and abolition of the slave power. In order to conserve the conquests of the first American revolution, it was found necessary to extend them through a second. A supplementary upheaval of social-economic relations was required to support the political overturn of 1860.
In the course of this second revolution, the most radical representatives of industrial capital and their plebeian allies completed the tasks initiated by their predecessors in the first. Placing themselves at the head of the anti-slavery forces, the Radicals took complete control of the Federal government and concentrated its apparatus in their hands. They defeated the armies of the Confederacy on the battlefields of the Civil War; shattered the political and economic power of the slave oligarchy; consolidated the bourgeois dictatorship set up during the war; and remodeled the Republic into conformity with their own class aims and interests.
This second American revolution not only installed a new governing class in office but, by abolishing chattel slavery, scrapped the principal form of property and labor in the South. The great political and social problem which had agitated the United States ever since the first revolution—how to dispose of the slave power and “its peculiar institution”—was definitively settled by the second.
The second revolution also concluded the progressive political role of the American bourgeoisie. After it helped annihilate the slave power and slavery, its political usefulness was utterly exhausted. Like the plantation aristocracy before it, the new ruling capitalist oligarchy rapidly transformed itself into a thoroughly reactionary force, until it came to constitute the main obstacle to social progress not only within the United States but throughout the world.
The Course of Revolution in the Old World and the New
Just as American historians have ignored the organic affiliation between the first American revolution and the second, so they usually overlook the affinity between the revolutionary movements in the United States and Europe during the mid-nineteenth century. Yet the upheaval in the New World cannot be completely and correctly understood unless its connections with the revolutionary processes then going on in the Old World are made clear.
At every stage of its development American history has been a product synthesized from interactions between international and intranational forces. Western Europe, which dominated the New World during its discovery and colonization, continued to determine the main lines of social and economic development in America decades after the United States achieved political independence.
The second American revolution was not simply necessitated by unsolved problems rising from the first. It was no less the outgrowth of the whole course of historical evolution in the Western world since 1789, and more particularly, since the world-shaking political events of 1848 in Europe. These developments posed new problems before the American people. They also provided ways and means for solving the old problems along with the new.
Between the close of the first American revolution in 1789 and the beginning of the second in 1861 a far greater revolution took place in the Western world. This revolution occurred in the field of production. The introduction of power-driven machinery transformed the technological basis of production, gave birth to the factory system, and made possible large-scale industry. With the establishment of large-scale industry, the capitalist method of production for the first time stood upon its own feet and began to assert its mastery in the decisive spheres of economic life. The age of industrial capitalism succeeded the age of commercial capitalism.
The rise of industrial capitalism, which began toward the end of the eighteenth century and lasted until the beginning of the twentieth century, was a turbulent epoch in world history. With furious zeal the emissaries of capitalism attacked and destroyed the remnants of feudal and barbarian civilizations and erected a new world on their ruins. In the wake of the extension of the exchange of products, capital, labor and culture acquired an unprecedented mobility. Capital ranged throughout the globe, seeking openings for trade and investment; millions of people were redistributed in the greatest mass migrations in history from the Old World to the New; culture became more cosmopolitan. Science and invention urged onward the fast pace of capitalist industry.
The second American revolution occurred during the height of this development. From 1852 to 1872 industrial capitalism experienced its most impetuous growth. The unprecedented volume of world trade during this period indicates the extraordinary tempo of economic expansion. After rising from 1.75 billions of dollars in 1830 to 3.6 billions in 1850, the volume of world trade leaped forward to 9.4 billions in 1870—an increase of well over two and a half times. This rate of increase has never been surpassed by world capitalism. It was during these hundred years of industrial revolution and, above all, during the decades from 1850 to 1870, that the modern capitalist world took shape.
This epoch of the most rapid expansion of capitalism, from 1847 to 1871, was likewise a period of wars and revolutions. There were three consecutive phases of war and revolution during this period. The crisis of 1847 produced the first mighty wave of uprisings. These were cut short by a series of victories for the reaction and by the economic revival following the California gold strike of 1849.
After a prolonged period of prosperity, the world crisis of 1857 gave rise to a second sequence of wars and revolutions. This began with the first Italian War for Independence and was followed in rapid succession by the American Civil War of 1861, the Polish Insurrection of 1863, Napoleon the Second’s Mexican adventure and the campaign against Denmark in 1864 which opened the series of Prussian Wars led by Bismarck. This revolutionary impulse was felt as far away as Japan where, through the Meiji Restoration, the rulers of Japan partially adapted their economy and regime to the demands of the new industrial system.
The third and final period, initiated by the crisis of 1866, witnessed the continuation of Bismarck’s campaign of expansion with the attack upon Austria in 1866 which was triumphantly concluded with the victory over France in 1871; the Republican uprising in Spain which toppled Queen Isabella from the throne; and the last of Louis Napoleon’s adventures which culminated in the crashing of the Empire in 1871.
The Civil War in France following the downfall of the Second Napoleon, where for the first time in history the proletariat seized power, was the historical high-water mark of this epoch. With the crushing of the Paris Communards and the restoration of bourgeois order in the Third Republic, the revolutionary tide receded for the rest of the century.
Thus, for almost twenty-five years, the entire Western world was a fiery furnace of war and revolution. These were the most turbulent years mankind experienced since the Napoleonic wars or was to know until the first World War. Within this furnace were forged not only the imperialist powers of modern Europe which were to rule the earth until 1914, but the nation destined to outstrip them as the mightiest of world powers: the capitalist United States of North America.
The second American revolution must be viewed within this world-historical setting. Our Civil War was neither an isolated nor a purely national phenomenon. It was one of the most important links in the chain of conflicts that issued directly out of the world economic crisis of 1857 and constituted the great bourgeois-democratic revolutionary movement of the mid-nineteenth century. While the revolutions of 1848 and 1871 in France were the chief events in the first and final stages of that movement, the revolution starting in 1861 in the United States was the central event in its second chapter. This was the most important revolutionary struggle of the nineteenth century as well as the most successful.
Results of the Mid-Nineteenth Century Revolutions
The development of the bourgeois-democratic revolutionary movements of the mid-nineteenth century proceeded at different tempos, assumed different forms, and had different results in the various countries. From Ireland to Austria the uprisings of 1848 in Europe uniformly ended in disaster and the restoration of the old order—with superficial changes at the top. At the same time these frustrated assaults made possible numerous reforms in the ensuing decades and prepared the way for further advances by the progressive forces.
The revolutionary movements of the second and third wave were more successful in attaining their objectives. The triumph of the Union in the United States was of far greater historical importance than the failure of the Polish insurrection in 1863. The conquest of national unification and independence by the German and Italian peoples was more significant than the fact that it was achieved under monarchical auspices. Even where the revolutionary struggles failed to reach fruition, they engendered valuable reforms (extension of the franchise in England, national autonomy for the Swiss cantons, limited constitutional liberties in Hungary, etc.). By 1871 the bourgeoisie had secured liberal constitutional governments in most of the leading countries of Western Europe with the exception of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. These retarded nations had to pay their long overdue debts to history in double and triple measure when the next all-European revolutionary tide rose during 1917-1918.
Except for the United States, social reforms were largely restricted to the removal of the vestiges of feudalism which hampered capitalist development. Thus the revolution of 1848 led to the abolition of serfdom in Hungary; in 1863 Alexander II decreed the emancipation of the serfs within Russia’s dominions. In the United States alone did a really revolutionary transformation of social relations take place.
Here the problems of the bourgeois revolution were solved with maximum success. Here the magnates of industrial capital became the sole rulers of the Republic by destroying the slavocracy and slavery. Elsewhere, as in Germany and Italy, the bourgeoisie faltered for lack of revolutionary energy, fell short of its goals, and remained footmen of the upper classes who retained the reins of government in their hands.
The American bourgeoisie was able to fulfill its historical mission so brilliantly because of the exceptional character of American social development. Their drive for power was based upon the great achievements of the first revolution. The American people had already attained national independence, got rid of the altar and the throne, and enjoyed the blessings of republican democracy. These advantages gave the American bourgeoisie a head start that made it easier to outdistance the Europeans.
Moreover, the economic power, political independence, and social weight of the capitalists in the United States considerably surpassed that of their German and Italian compeers. The American masters of capital were no political tyros. They had taken almost a century to prepare themselves for this final showdown; they had once held supreme power and felt it was theirs by right. They had already created their own parliamentary institutions and taken legal possession of the state apparatus before the battle was joined. They entered the arena with their own party and program. The role of the bourgeois Republicans as defenders of the Union and its democratic institutions enabled them to rally around their banner the progressive forces within the nation and throughout the civilized world. The North could count on support from the Negroes in the South whose sympathy weakened the Confederacy even where the Union leaders feared to encourage their self-action. They succeeded in winning over the mass of small farmers to their side, while the slaveholders failed to draw their sympathizers among the governments of Western Europe into the conflict. The importance of these alliances can be estimated when it is remembered that the rebel colonists were enabled to defeat their British overlords through the military intervention and financial aid of France, Spain and Holland.
The economic strength and manpower of the Northern bourgeoisie were no less superior to that of their adversary. The boom preceding the crisis of 1857 poured streams of wealth into the coffers of the Northern industrialists and financiers and placed large resources of capital and credit at their disposal. The Unionists had an extensive and solid industrial and agricultural base beneath their feet. The Confederacy, on the contrary, had neither an adequate industrial foundation (they exhausted their energies trying to improvise one under stress of the civil war), quantities of liquid capital at their command, nor easy access to the resources of the world market. The war, which depleted the assets of the Confederacy, crippled its slave economy, and cut off its great saleable crop from the market, only lent an impetus to the expansion of industry and agriculture and the accumulation of capital within the loyal states.
Finally, the clear-cut and irreconcilable antagonism between the slavocracy and industrialists on the one hand, and the immaturity of the proletariat on the other, enabled the radical bourgeoisie to carry through the struggle against their class enemy to the end. The German bourgeoisie had to reckon at every stage of its conflict with the princes and Junkers to its right and with a distrustful working class on its left. Except for a brief explosion in the middle of 1863, the industrial workers in the United States did not assert themselves as a powerful independent factor in the revolutionary struggles. The revolution was led by the Radical Republicans, the most resolute representatives of the bourgeoisie. The Radicals were the last of the great line of bourgeois revolutionists. Thrusting aside the conciliators of every stripe and crushing all opposition from the left, they annihilated their class enemy, stripped the slaveholders of all economic and political power, and proceeded to transform the United States into a model bourgeois-democratic nation, purged of the last vestiges of pre-capitalist conditions.
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the capitalist magnates who enjoyed economic and political mastery saw no need for further fundamental changes in American society. And it was true that the time for revolutionary transformations within the framework of capitalism had ended. That did not mean, however, as the upholders of that system taught, that all possibility of revolution had forever been banished from the United States. This most successful of bourgeois revolutions had still left important things undone. For instance, it carried out agrarian reform in a highly inequitable manner. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave the small white farmer free access to the untenanted territories in the West belonging to the Federal Government and awarded huge tracts of the best land to the railroad corporations.
But the Negro cultivators of the soil, who had contributed so much to victory over the planters, were shabbily treated. Although the Republicans emancipated the slaves, they refused to give the freedmen the material means for economic independence (“40 acres and a mule”) or to guarantee their social equality or democratic rights. In the disputed presidential election of 1876, to ensure continued sovereignty in Washington, the Republican leaders sealed an agreement with the Southern white supremacists which erased the last of the equality and democracy the Negroes had won for themselves during Reconstruction.
The failure of the bourgeois regime to solve the Negro problem has plagued our country to this day. It appears that this job, left unfinished by the nineteenth century revolution, will require a struggle of comparable magnitude before it is performed.
America democracy was defended and extended by the coalition of class forces that fought and won the Civil War. But at its best this democracy has remained restricted. At no time since have the mass of American people exercised decisive control over the national government. Whether Republicans or Democrats held the White House and Congress, the plutocrats have ruled the country and determined its major policies in war or peace.
This formal political democracy is still further abridged by the industrial autocracy of the big capitalists who own and operate the national economy for their private profit. The workers who produce the wealth of the United States have no control over its distribution.
By 1960 the monopolists held the same position in American life that the slaveholders occupied in 1860. They are an obsolete social force, the major brake upon national progress, the fiercest enemies of democracy. Instead of leading progressive movements in the interest of the people, they have become the organizers of counterrevolution and the allies of reaction throughout the world.
Their course is slowly but surely creating the preconditions for a mass resistance to their rule which will culminate in a third American revolution. This new movement of emancipation, based upon the workers, will have a socialist program and aims and be directed against capitalist reaction. But its organizers and leaders can learn much from the Radicals of Civil War years who met the challenge of the slaveholders’ counterrevolution head on, crushed their resistance on the field of battle, confiscated four billions worth of their property, and totally uprooted their outlived social system. They showed by example how to deal with a tyrannical ruling class which refuses to retire peacefully when the time has come for it to go.
William F. Warde:
Your article, The American Civil War: Its Place in History, [contained in the last issue of the International Socialist Review], accomplished the fresh historical relation of the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1781. That such a relationship exists is of interest to this student of history.
However, the facts you use and the conclusions you draw make the article a most scandalous piece of historical writing.
First: whatever the motives of the Revolutionary War they definitely were not (although you claim these are the most important) “to rid American society of its pre-capitalist encumbrances (Indian tribalism, feudalism, slavery).” This conclusion is utterly preposterous when you consider that many of the leaders of the revolution were “feudalistic” and held slaves; to wit—Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They weren’t fighting to abolish themselves, rather they, and the other colonists, were fighting for independence from England, with “pre-capitalist encumbrances” forming virtually no consideration.
The assertion that the Southern “slavocracy” controlled the country from 1800 to the Civil War indicates your biased desire to the theory by inserting or making up facts, rather than looking at the facts and then arriving at a theory. In fact, the South did have a great deal of power in Congress and occasionally in the Presidency, but never or rarely did it have outright control. The parties (predominately Whigs and Democrats) didn’t split along sectional lines except in issues deeply affecting the South (e.g. tariff bills and the several compromises).
And when the vote did split section-ally, the best the South could do was tie the North in the Senate because it was outnumbered in the House of Representatives.
Furthermore, the strongest Southern President, Andrew Jackson, actually opposed South Carolina when it tried to assert its sovereignty; and Andrew Jackson was nobody’s lackey!
To claim that the Civil War was a bourgeois (hence Northern) revolt is another distorted claim. The South plainly withdrew and revolted from the Union. The anti-slavery movement was vehemently supported by only a small minority of rabid abolitionists of whom Abraham Lincoln was not one. Industrialists and Northern financiers were not as happy as you say to see slavery go, they had a great deal of money tied up in the South and the slavery system.
When slavery was abolished it was done on moral, military and propaganda grounds (to gain England’s sympathy); the bourgeois “revolution” had little to do with the freeing of any slaves.
Again you claim that the capitalists (i.e. plutocrats) utterly controlled the government after the Civil War is a further distortion. That industry had power, often great power, is not denied. But they could be, and often were stopped. By 1872 the Radical Republicans were unpopular and more moderate minds began coming to power. The strength of the Democratic party increased so fast that from 1876 to the turn of the century it was competing on equal grounds with the Republicans.
In regard to your conclusion, there won’t be another revolution because the proletariat has no one to revolt against. True, the chief industrialists still have influence in the government but it is matched or exceeded by that of the unions. One need only witness the anti-management bills of the nineteen thirties (e.g. the Wagner Act) to realize that “Rockefeller, Ford and Co.” do not run the country. Besides, more and more of industry is being held by millions of small stockholders—including the workers. A revolution now would mean the proletariat revolting against itself.
I don’t expect this criticism to be printed in your propaganda sheet, but at least I can let you know that some people who are aware of the rudiments of history and its compilation read your half-truths and distortions.
Whatever the merits of your movement you can’t expect to recruit any intellectually honest people with such outrageous corruption of history.
Douglas Van Sant, Harvard University Cambridge, Mass.
Dear Mr. Van Sant:
1. Of course the Southern planters did not fight British rule to abolish slavery. That is why a second American revolution was needed to rid the nation of this pro-capitalist mode of production. However, Washington, Jefferson and their associates did attack, such pro-capitalist encumbrances as the Indian, royal and Crown proprietors’ possession of the land and such feudal institutions as the state church, entail and primogeniture, etc.
2. Which class held supreme political power in the U.S. between 1800 and 1860? It is rarely disputed that from 1789 to 1800 the Federalists pushed through the program of the Northern monied men. The so-called “revolution of 1800,” which is often described as the victory of the agrarian interests over the capitalists, of progress over reaction and democracy over plutocracy, really signified the passing of ultimate decision in Washington from the, Northern bourgeoisie to the planters headed by the Virginia Dynasty (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe).
From then on the U.S. was governed by a coalition of big property owners—but the planters were the senior partner. Their predominance was most conspicuous in the field of foreign policy since they determined the main lines of expansion (the Louisiana Purchase, the taking of Florida) and the kind of wars that were undertaken against England, Spain, the Indians, and later Mexico. During this early period the rule of the Southern planters was so galling that representatives of the New England rich twice contemplated leaving the Union (the Essex Junto, the Hartford Convention). Andrew Jackson, himself a slaveowner and slave trader, was likewise primarily a representative of the planting interests, not of the decaying seaboard section, but of the aggressive, up-and-coming pioneer planters of the Southwest. His collision with the impatient slaveholders of South Carolina over nullification does not negate that role. It should not be overlooked that in the end Jackson yielded on the substance of the dispute and agreed to lower the tariff. The blackmail pressure of South Carolina paid off.
3. The Northern industrialists would have preferred to maintain the Union and their political sovereignty without upsetting the slave system and made every effort to do so from Lincoln’s election to 1863. However, they were driven to abolish slavery in order to win the civil war and prevent the planters from regaining their lost power. Even if emancipation was proclaimed and legalized less from sympathy with the Negroes than in their own narrow class interests, this does not detract from the progressive historical importance of their deed.
4. Once they had shattered the slavocracy and cinched their hold on the country, most of the Radical Republican leaders became conservatized. Since they did have to contend with the claims of other social forces, the agents of the plutocrats in charge of the Republican administrations from 1865 to 1902 did not have everything their own way. But the representatives of “the robber barons” did decide the major policies and actions of the national government. This was the time Parrington pungently describes as “The Great Barbecue” when the capitalists feasted at the public expense and the rest of the people got the leavings from the banquet table.
This was not halted even when the Democrats under Cleveland displaced the Republicans in Washington. The period was rounded out by the victory of McKinley and Mark Hanna who took the country into war with Spain. This first imperialist venture demonstrated that the objectives of the ruling rich were the foremost consideration of the government in foreign affairs as well as at home.
William F. Warde [George Novack]