Editor's note: The original version of this column was published Jan, 5, 2018.
One hundred and fifty-nine years ago, Christopher Columbus Danley, the editor/owner of the Arkansas State Gazette, surveyed the world around him and saw nothing but gloom and doom.
"An editor," he wrote, "occupies a responsible position, and is under solemn obligation to proclaim the truth." Even those who disagreed with him read him because "they pay me the compliment to think that I write the honest convictions of my heart, and do not fear to defend the right because it may be unpopular, nor denounce the wrong though it may be popular."
Danley chewed over his words physically, biting off small pieces of paper as he searched for the right words. And he had plenty to chew over. The presidential election in 1860 had resulted in a victory for Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate. Apparently a handful of votes were cast for him in Arkansas, although since the state did not use paper ballots, the evidence is anecdotal.
The Republican Party, erected in the North amid the ruins of the old Whigs, was the party of modernization. Its opposition to slavery was limited only to its expansion, not its demise. But by 1860 the Cotton South states were dominated by "fire-eaters," and Arkansas Congressman Thomas Carmichael Hindman had done all in his power to make sure in previous years that the U.S. government be made unworkable.
There could be no compromise with the North for the obvious reason that the goal of dissolving the Union was now within the fire-eaters' grasp.
Moves had been made in Arkansas to support secession, the supposed constitutional doctrine that states having freely entered the union could at any time leave it. Danley's argument that legislators had taken an oath to support the Constitution, while valid, went nowhere. "Though all others seemed joyous and happy and hopeful," he wrote as the new year started, "an uncontrollable sadness and presentiment of evil were upon us; we felt there was a skeleton at the feast."
Danley's vision that "the South can only be united by the shedding of blood" proved to be incorrect because the South, or rather South Carolina in particular, fired the first shot, thus becoming the aggressor. Thus the South was never united. Lost to the Confederacy were not only the border states but also the large number of cultural Southerners who lived in the southern parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Where Danley was correct was in denouncing "the buzzards that roost about the carcass." He thought "the dissolution of the Union can be averted only by the miraculous interposition of Providence." God looked the other way and so came the Civil War.
New versions of these buzzards roost today in Washington and in state governments. But it is not rotten flesh upon which they seek to feast, but instead the vital living organs of all that has gone into making governments responsible to the people and not just the oligarchs. Ironic it is that progressivism, which gave the voters and not legislatures the right to elect their U.S. senators, and women the right to vote, as well as pure food and drug laws, and which counted Republican President Theodore Roosevelt among its leaders, is today viewed by Republicans as one of the worst evils ever to befall the country. Only "liberal" is a dirtier word.
In our world, two things conceivably could occur. First, the foreign-policy blundering of the most inept person ever to be president could lead to world conflict that would drag down the United States as well as the world. The Korean issue is one of the most obvious, but siding with the Netanyahu regime in Israel unites all the Islamic world against us. And if Israel can have nuclear weapons, why not every other nation? Bombs (like guns) don't kill; people kill.
Or we could have wars at home. In the late 19th century the aggregations of great wealth and mass poverty led to anarchism, syndicalism and communism. Despite every Republican effort to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, this easily could happen again, especially if we take away opioids from the Southern masses. If reform failed at the ballot box, it might well surface in militant ways. A campaign to round up and deport all the Dreamers (as well as their parents and grandparents) could result in violence.
While all of the above are possible, there is one inevitable: the economy. The higher the market goes up, the further it will go down. As Deuteronomy tells us, "their foot shall slide in due time." Arkansas' first Depression started in 1720 from the banking collapse of the Duke of Arkansas, John Law. Thus even before Arkansas became part of the United States its history was defined sometimes by war but always by economic collapses and resultant depressions. The question is not if there will be a crash, but when.
We chewed over this piece and invite you to do the same.
Michael B. Dougan of Jonesboro is distinguished professor of history emeritus at Arkansas State University.
Editorial on 01/03/2020
Print Headline: Two New Years