Monday, June 23, 2014

Tea Party vs Fire Eaters: Links About the Links

My review of Michael Korda's book about Robert E. Lee -- -- has stirred up quite a storm.

If you look at the 400-or-so comments you'll see a lot of Americans are still fighting the Civil War, and many of those same people took particular offense at my passing remark that the Tea Partiers are spiritual descendants of the Fire Eaters in the 1850s.

In case you aren't familiar with the latter group, they were the extremist advocates of secession in defense of slavery. 

Do Tea Partiers own slaves? No. But they distrust and despise the Federal government, defy its authority, defend intolerance under the slogan "states' rights," run for national office with the purpose of undermining or dismantling national government, are willing to destroy a mainstream political party on the general principle of "rule or ruin," do all this in the name of the Constitution and, yep, every so often they call for secession. 

(By the way, not all the Fire Eaters owned slaves themselves, and many professed their belief that the South's peculiar institution was hugely beneficial to black people because it civilized and Christianized them. No bigots they...)

Following are some links that may be instructive:

For starters, The site is enthusiastically secessionist, praising not only those who would break away from the Federal government -- --  but those who would secede from various states: . This reflects, in part, the urban-rural divide in the United States, which also was central to the secessionist movement in the 1850s pitting the agrarian South against the industrial North.

Secessionism is such a common theme among Tea Partiers in Texas since Gov. Rick Perry floated that breakaway balloon in 2011 that The Huffington Post has published more than 30 stories on the subject:

My Daily Beast colleague Lloyd Green touched on the broader comparisons with considerable nuance in his piece on America's "long-simmering semi-civil civil war" last year:

And I have collected several pieces touching on Tea Party / Fire Eater issues on this blog's "Echoes of the Civil War" page:

But the best single essay I have read on the Tea Party's spiritual inheritance was written by Garry Wills in The New York Review of Books in 2013 under the headline "Back Door Secession": 

It's worth highlighting a few lines from the Wills piece:

"It is not much noticed that parts of the country act as if they had already seceded from the union. They do not recognize laws and Supreme Court decisions, or constitutional guarantees of free speech. ... 

"The people behind these efforts are imitating what the Confederate States did even before they formally seceded in 1861. Already they ran a parallel government, in which the laws of the national government were blatantly disregarded. They denied the right of abolitionists to voice their arguments, killing or riding out of town over three hundred of them in the years before the Civil War. They confiscated or destroyed abolitionist tracts sent to Southern states by United States mail. In the United States Congress, they instituted 'gag rules' that automatically tabled (excluded from discussion) anti-slavery petitions, in flagrant abuse of the First Amendment’s right of petition. ...

"Just as the Old South compelled the national party to shelter its extremism, today’s Tea Party leaders make Republicans toe their line. Most Republicans do not think laws invalid because the president is a foreign-born Muslim with a socialist agenda. But they do not renounce, or even criticize, their partners who think that. The rare Republican who dares criticize a Rush Limbaugh is quickly made to repent and apologize. John Boehner holds the nation hostage because the Tea Party holds him hostage. The problem with modern Republicans is not fanaticism in the few but cowardice in the many, who let their fellows live in virtual secession from laws they disagree with.

"Republican leaders in Congress are too cowardly to say that the voting restrictions being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures are racially motivated. They accept the blatant lie that they are aimed only at non-existent 'fraud.' They will not crack the open code by which their partners claim to object to Obama because he is a 'foreign-born Muslim' when they really mean 'a black man.' ... De facto acts of secession are given a pseudo-legal cover. ...

"The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule. We see this in the Senate, where a Democratic majority is resisted at every turn by automatic recourses to the filibuster. ...

"It is difficult to conjecture what will happen if the modern virtual seceders do not get their way. Their anti-government rhetoric is reaching new intensity. Some would clearly rather ruin than be ruled by a “foreign-born Muslim.” What will the Republicans who are not fanatics, only cowards, do in that case?"


The photograph is of the famous Fire Eater Edmund Ruffin, who supposedly had the honor of firing the first shot on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the American Civil War, then shot himself at the end.

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