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CHAPTER SEVEN The Burial of the New Birth of Freedom 283 The Lost Key As the Civil War drew to a close in the spring of 1865, news reports about the Confederate government, then not long for this world, prompted an anonymous writer for the New York Times to reflect on the nature and ultimate cause of the war. The Confederate Congress was in secret session—again. Its recent conduct, the writer said, “exhibits more clearly the rapid progress which that body has made toward pure oligarchy.” Prior to the war, Southern leaders had masked their oligarchy in pretended republicanism, but since the establishment of the Confederacy, they had dropped the mask: Of their dislike to a broad Democracy like ours, we have been long aware. But the recent proceedings of their Congress prove that even a Government of freeholders was not what they aimed at, but a Government of wealthy men, large landed proprietors—­ what in short, Aristotle calls an oligarchy, without any responsibility, or any show of responsibility, to the rest of the community . . . . Much of the practical interest of this matter is of course destroyed by the probability that the present Confederate Congress is the last that will ever meet. But it will, nevertheless, always possess considerable importance for the philosopher and historian, as a very suggestive indication of the course that the Confederacy would have run, had it succeeded—­ of the secret aims of its leading managers, and in fact as a key to many of the most singular problems of “this strange eventful history.”1 As Northern readers of the New York Times knew, many Northern abolitionists and political leaders had been using Southern oligarchy as the key PART II THE TEST AND IMPLICATIONS 284 to decoding their “strange eventful history” as it unfolded, and the last gasps of Confederate government heaped up more evidence that they were right to have done so. For decades after the war, the prediction of the editorialist held, and the antebellum rise of the oligarchic regime in the South continued to “possess considerable importance for the philosopher and historian” who studied and wrote about the events of their age. These authors constituted the first school of literature on the antebellum conflict over slavery, the war, and postbellum American politics. This body of literature is best designated the Republican School, and its defining attribute is recognition of Southern oligarchy as the key to understanding American political development in the nineteenth century. Many Republicans who had served in the national government wrote memoirs, penned histories, and published their collected speeches on their epic struggle. The accounts of some of them who served in the Thirty-­ Eighth, Thirty-­ Ninth, or Fortieth Congress are sources for chapters 1–5 of this book. They contributed to the Republican School along with many others, before and after the war. Union combat veteran Albion Tourgee wrote a historical novel exclusively focusing on Reconstruction that belongs to the Republican School. His book A Fool’s Errand (1879) was based on his personal experience in postbellum North Carolina and was popular in the North. For him, the residuum of antebellum Southern oligarchy remained the key to the difficulties of Reconstruction . He wrote that the South “was a republic in name, but an oligarchy in fact. Its laws were framed and construed to this end.” The attempt to change the regime was a “herculean” task, perhaps even impossible in his view, as the title hints.2 Other authors expanded and extended the analysis of the Republican School, arguing that the antebellum oligarchy had reconstituted and was still menacing American government as well as black Americans. One of these authors is Green Berry Raum, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor fighting for the Union in the Civil War, later became a U.S. representative from Illinois, and wrote The Existing Conflict between Republican Government and Southern Oligarchy (1884). Others were Henry Edwin Tremain, also a Union combat veteran and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and author of Sectionalism Unmasked (1907), and William Henry Smith, author of A Political History of Slavery (1903), who served Ohio as secretary of state during the war. The Republican School should include “the author of America,” William Cullen Bryant. In the fourth volume of his work A Popular History of the United States (1876–81), he declared “the central fact of CHAPTER SEVEN THE BURIAL OF THE NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM 285 the history of the United States to be, from the...


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