‘Tragic Prelude,’ a mural painted by John Steuart Curry, depicts John Brown’s role in ‘Bleeding Kansas,’ with the bloodshed, fire and tornado hinting at the coming Civil War.

George Phillies: January 6, 2021 – Our John Brown Moment?

Let us return to the unfortunate dead days of 1840-1860, the days leading up to the Civil War. The United States had two political parties, the Democrats and – toward the end fading out of existence – the Whigs. We had a series of Presidents, most mediocre.

At the start of the period, each party had a northern and a southern wing, the two wings being not wildly different in strength. Both wings of both parties were united on the key issue of the day, this being the preservation of the Union. Before that issue, all other issues of the day were, it was then believed, obliged to give way. In support of this end, northern and southern wings of each party had to remain somewhat moderate on the slavery issue.

Then matters began to go down hill. A series of events gave proof to antislavery advocates in the North that The Slave Power, the South, was advancing to overwhelm the Union. The Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned the Missouri Compromise. The Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Act created popular dissent. Southern postmasters censored the mails, keeping abolitionist writings out of Southern hands.

Less obviously, the balance between the northern and southern wings of the Democratic Party weakened, so that southern pro-slavery Democrats tended to dominate. The more they dominated, the more radical their party became, the less northern support was at hand, and the more the Southern Democrats dominated. An endless spiral set in.

A consequence was that northern anti-slavery supporters drifted into abolitionist parties, notably the Free Soil Party. Now there was something that had not existed before, namely a partisan rather than a sectional disagreement over slavery. There could still be agreement between sections on issues; for example, tariff bills passed with overwhelming southern as well as northern support. To obscure the political landscape, anti-immigration groups such as The Order of the Star Spangled Banner became politically active. Republican candidate Fremont almost won the 1856 election. He lost because he lost Pennsylvania and New Jersey, apparently due to a whispering campaign that he had converted to Roman Catholicism.

And now we reach John Brown. In late 1859, he and a small group of followers seized the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Brown believed that vast numbers of slaves would rally to his cause, allowing him to lead a servile insurrection that would sweep across Virginia and the rest of the South, thereby ending slavery. He had been warned by Frederick Douglass that nothing of the sort would occur, but went ahead with his plans anyhow.

Douglass’ warnings proved correct; the slaves of Virginia did not rise in rebellion. As also seen during the Civil War, Harper’s Ferry was surrounded by high hills and therefore indefensible. Brown was captured, tried, and hanged.

The consequence, as noted by historian David Potter, was that the South simply ceased to listen to the North, and to a lesser extent vice versa. The country was now hopelessly divided. Matters rolled downward until 1861, when Fort Sumter was fired upon.

Now we advance to 2021, and the storming of the Capitol. There was a large, peaceful assembly well away from the Capitol building. Out from this assembly, a violent group numbering in the hundreds or low thousands assembled and stormed the Capitol. Like John Brown’s insurrectionists, these insurrectionaries would appear to have had no possibility of accomplishing their apparent objectives.

And, like John Brown’s insurrectionaries, the Capitol insurrectionaries drove a deep wedge into American politics. Like the South before the civil war, liberals and Democrats revolted by the insurrection are simply ceasing to listen to their political opponents. Instead of postmasters censoring the mail against abolitionists, we have private firms blocking the voices of conservatives.

This situation is not a positive outcome for our country.

25 thoughts on “George Phillies: January 6, 2021 – Our John Brown Moment?

  1. Thomas L Knapp

    Interesting take.

    In my opinion, the “Capitol riot” will be largely forgotten a year from now, and the main danger is authoritarian responses that use it as an excuse over the next few months (e.g. adding people to the no-fly list).

  2. George Phillies

    Fred,

    On this matter I take the word of Senator Yancey of Alabama (American adn Confederate Seantor) writing after the war, that the war was about slavery. His writings spend some time demolishing claims that the war was about tariffs, notably emphasizing that Southerners in the Hosue voted overwhelmingly for the tariffs in question. Potter expands on this at considerable length. Southerners were convinced, because they refused to listen to Northerners, that Lincoln was coming for their slaves, a belief inconsistent with Lincoln’s words at, e.g., the Cooper Union.

    George

  3. wolfefan

    You could add VP Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech. I have no idea why people claim the secession wasn’t about slavery when the secessionists themselves said it was.

  4. dL

    On this matter I take the word of Senator Yancey of Alabama (American adn Confederate Seantor) writing after the war, that the war was about slavery.

    Yes, the underlying issue of the civil war was slavery. What exactly is the underlying/dividing issue of civil war 2.0? There is no such underlying issue. There is no analogy with John Brown. Republicans and Democrats call each fascists and traitors but they have no compunction to unite in bipartisanship to expand the military, the police and the security organs. The security organs never trusted the proles, now it appears–with the Iraq-like designation of a Capitol Green Zone–that they no longer trust the Outer party, either. The only historical comparisons are with a couple of well known 20th century dystopian novels.

  5. Be Rational

    “I have no idea why people claim the secession wasn’t about slavery when the secessionists themselves said it was.”

    – People making this claim are aware that slavery was an unjustifiable abomination, so they are looking for an alternate reason for secession in order to validate their religiously held belief that the South was justified in leaving the Union, that their own grievances are justified, and then, but for Lincoln and northern aggression, they could have kept their slaves, for some time at least, and they could have maintained their superiority over the inferior races in the world in perpetuity by means of continual government oppression.

  6. George Phillies

    “There is no analogy with John Brown. ” There is a near-perfect analogy. There has been an unprecedented escalation of violence, and the other side has lost all patience and is now looking to eliminate the Trump supporters.

  7. Jared

    wolfefan: “I have no idea why people claim the secession wasn’t about slavery when the secessionists themselves said it was.”

    dL: “Yes, the underlying issue of the civil war was slavery.”

    I think the reasons for the secession and the reasons for the war can and should be treated separately, as well as why the North fought vs. why the South fought. Too often people want to romanticize and reduce it to a Manichaean struggle between the forces of good and evil.

  8. George Phillies

    dL The last time the Capitol was seized by enemies of the country was the War of 1812, and they were foreigners. The last time the Capitol was seriously threatened was the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion. There has never been a successful attack by Americans on the Capitol.

    And, advancing, we now have Congressmen and Senators seriously proposing that the people who wanted the electoral votes reviewed, e.g. Cruz, Hawley, should be expelled from the Senate and the 140 give or take Congressmen who voted to sustain the complaint about the electoral vote should be expelled from the House.

  9. Thomas L Knapp

    “The last time the Capitol was seriously threatened was the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion.”

    There was a serious threat on the Capitol, in which five members of Congress were shot, 89 years after that war ended. March 1, 1954.

  10. David Pratt Demarest

    The 2021 political rebellion crosses not only party lines but also, to some extent, ideological divisions. The issue driving the 2021 rebellion is the elitist establishment and apologists (cronies) versus anti-establishment, exacerbated by establishment stifling of anti-establishment voices through censorship and a deluge of propaganda via every available channel including media and education.

    Note that the elitist establishment is built on an uneasy alliance between elitist neocons and elitist progressives, aided and abetted by the progressive mainstream media. All indications suggest that the censoring of anti-establishment voices is accelerating and will persist, increasing the likelihood of open rebellion as the only channel for anti-establishment voices to be heard.

    Those who prioritize freedom should be well aware that open communication and transparency can provide an obvious solution. Will the Libertarian Party continue to look inward and preach to the choir? Or will the LP reach out to the broader audience, broach the elitist establishment and anti-establishment divide, and leverage modern media to proselytize a message of open uncensored communication and transparency, two obvious preconditions of peace and avoidance of open rebellion?

    Thoughts?

  11. dL

    The last time the Capitol was seized by enemies of the country

    we now have Congressmen and Senators seriously proposing that the people who wanted the electoral votes reviewed

    You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, George. You need to pick one. If you are going to use language like “seized by enemies of the country,” then Cruz, Hawley would be collaborators and traitors. If Cruz,Hawley are but principled vote counters unduly suppressed by a vindictive opposition, then the Capitol spectacle would be something a little less than an invasion by a foreign army.

  12. dL

    versus anti-establishment

    In what universe is Trump an anti-establishment figure or News Corp, the largest global media empire in the world, not mainstream media?

    the likelihood of open rebellion as the only channel for anti-establishment voices to be heard.

    I hope they’re smarter than those dipshits that convened on the capitol. Refused to take advantage of a perfect excuse(global pandemic) to wear face coverings to defeat facial recognition surveillance and carried their gps tracking smartphones on them in person. Keystone Guevaras…

  13. George Phillies

    DL writes: “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, George. You need to pick one. If you are going to use language like “seized by enemies of the country,” then Cruz, Hawley would be collaborators and traitors. If Cruz,Hawley are but principled vote counters unduly suppressed by a vindictive opposition, then the Capitol spectacle would be something a little less than an invasion by a foreign army.”

    I cetainly can. Of course, this requres a concept you seem to be missing, namely there is a difference between legal and illegal acts. Cruz and Hawley followed the law and Congressional Rules of Order in advancing their wrong belief. The seditious conspirators who stormed the Capitol violated a long series of laws, including stealing at least one Congressman’s pharmaceutical supplies, as they will by and by discover.

  14. dL

    I certainly can

    The seditious conspirators who stormed the Capitol violated a long series of laws

    Cruz and Hawley followed the law and Congressional Rules of Order in advancing their wrong belief.

  15. Thomas L Knapp

    dL,

    Two enter a coffee shop. They tell the proprietor they would like espresso. He tells them the espresso machine is broken.

    Fifty people enter the coffee shop. They break the windows, shit on the counter, and yell that the proprietor had better make them an espresso now.

    Both of those things involve people wanting espresso.

    One of those things is not like the other.

  16. dL

    Two enter a coffee shop. They tell the proprietor they would like espresso. He tells them the espresso machine is broken.

    Fifty people enter the coffee shop. They break the windows, shit on the counter, and yell that the proprietor had better make them an espresso now.

    The two exit the coffee shop and fist pump the assembled mob outside while exhorting them on “they fixed the machines to be broken for y’all; they’re really serving large amounts of expresso in a back room to a Soros-backed cabal scheming to sell your children into a sex-trafficking ring.”

    Keep in mind Tom, I ain’t the one who compared the capitol spectacle to the British army invasion of 1812. But if you are going to do that, then Hawley was fist pumping and providing material support to the invading hordes.

  17. Thomas L Knapp

    “I ain’t the one who compared the capitol spectacle to the British army invasion of 1812. But if you are going to do that”

    No, I’m not going to do that. Here’s my opinion, from my latest column:

    In hindsight, it will hopefully (and hopefully quickly) shrink to its real-life proportions: A few thousand hysterical Donald Trump supporters, and likely at most a few dozen truly dangerous thugs, protested against what they claimed was a stolen election. Then they stormed and vandalized a building, scared some politicians, and killed a cop (who turned out to be a Trump supporter himself).

    No, it wasn’t pretty. Neither was the March 1, 1954 attack on the Capitol in which Puerto Rican nationalists shot and wounded five members of Congress, or Frank Eugene Corder’s September 12, 1994 suicide by plane on the White House’s south lawn. Last time I checked, those dates were no more occasions of somber remembrance than January 6 is likely to become. In the grand scheme of things, they were all teapot tempests.

    The real and lasting damage of the Capitol riot will come not from the riot itself but from its exploitation by authoritarians of all stripes.

    But your “cake and eat it too” claim just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Cruz and Hawley are certainly opportunistic dumbfucks, but they did something wholly According to Hoyle.

  18. dL

    No, I’m not going to do that.

    I was referring to George, not you.

    Cruz and Hawley are certainly opportunistic dumbfucks

    My take, too. But if you are going to compare the capitol spectacle with 1812 or the civil war(like Phillies did), that would make them something more than mere opportunistic grifters. George Phillies is having his cake and eating it, too.

  19. Thomas L Knapp

    “But if you are going to compare the capitol spectacle with 1812 or the civil war(like Phillies did), that would make them something more than mere opportunistic grifters.”

    So the 39% of US Representatives and the 41% of US Senators who voted against the declaration of war in 1812 were the equivalent of the British troops?

    I don’t know what House or Senate rules were like then, but if they were like they are now, some of that 39% and 41% respectively presumably objected to declaring war by unanimous consent and forced a vote — which is EXACTLY what Cruz and Hawley did.

  20. dL

    So the 39% of US Representatives and the 41% of US Senators who voted against the declaration of war in 1812 were the equivalent of the British troops?

    Ask George Phillies. I ain’t the one making that comparison. I’m calling out the nonsense of invoking 1812 while simultaneously characterizing Cruz,Hawley as dispassionate executors of parliamentary procedure being unfairly persecuted by partisanship.

  21. George Phillies

    If you argue with crazy people, readers may not be able to tell the difference.

    In other news, the LNC had an emergency meeting this weekend. The topic was, I am advised, a secret.

  22. Thomas L Knapp

    I thought that even for executive session, the topic had to be openly stated.

    Are we REALLY going to back to this constant secret meeting bullshit? I thought Starchild had managed to tamp that down some after the terrible days of the first 10 or 12 years of the 2000s.

  23. dL

    If you argue with crazy people, readers may not be able to tell the difference.

    I guess the only trick would be figuring out which one is the crazy person…

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