Parallels in Radicalism

Having just done a review of American history with one of my classes, I found this article by a Boston College historian drawing a comparison between the Republican Party of 2015 and the Democratic Party of 1860 to be interesting.

This historian reminds us that John C. Breckenridge, the pro-slavery candidate of the Democrats of that time, was nominated by a party that could no longer control its base, which in that case was the wealthy slaveholders of the South. As the nation was expanding into the West, the Northern states opposed the extension of the slavery system. If non-slave states opened up in the West, the slaveholders would become outnumbered in Congress.

The insurgent Democrats were convinced that the nation was going to hell in a handbasket. (Sound like Trump “Make America Great Again” to you?).

They insisted on local, not federal control. (Sound TeaPartyish to you?)

They said black people had no rights “that a white man was bound to respect,” as the Dred Scott decision read. (Sound like Trump to you?)

They thought Republicans actually wanted to destroy the country. (Sound like talk radio to you?)

At the 1860 convention, the insurgents split away from their party and nominated Breckenridge, handing the election to Lincoln. Within a matter of days, Breckenridge’s supporters started the series of state secessions that then resulted in the Civil War. They were full of bravado, but they had never fought in wars. In the end, 620,000 Americans lay dead and the South was devastated for 100 years.

Since the mid-1990s, the right-wing media have lit bonfires of hatred and suspicion in the minds of conservative Americans, who now feel in mortal danger and who expose themselves only to the news outlets that tell them what they already “know” to be true: that liberals want to destroy America and that they must be stopped. Gun sales keep rising as conservatives arm themselves to fight the threats they see all around them.

Donald Trump has effectively united about one-third of Republican voters behind his incessant chest-thumping cries that he can save America from cultural, political, military, and every other kind of decay–even as his website puts forth a hodgepodge of fascistic power-grabs and relatively modest, even liberal, proposals. Experienced Republican politicians who are true believers in “conservatism” aren’t even getting a hearing.

I don’t know that civil war is imminent, but I will say this; being an unarmed liberal is starting to feel quite scary to me. In Tennessee in 1954, I was born into the ashes of the Civil War. I never saw the fire, but I can tell you, from the ashes, I never want to see one.


One thought on “Parallels in Radicalism

  1. “I was born into the ashes of the Civil War. I never saw the fire, but I can tell you, from the ashes, I never want to see one.” Amen.


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