That was in response to the Bush administration's policies of torturing prisoners and snooping on communications of citizens without court approval -- fundamental violations of both domestic and international law. Such a deep disdain for the moral and legal underpinnings of our democracy is not without precedent in U.S. history. (And yes, I'm still voting for Dems in November! The other idiots really are worse for too many people to sit out.)
Then they fought, less violently, but just as vigorously, for nearly 100 years about what the war meant. Slavery was gone, but would white property owners be able to enforce other forms of involuntary servitude to retain the cheap labor of their former property? (Largely, yes.) Concurrently, would the bloody war be thought of, as Lincoln proclaimed at Gettysburg, as initiating a new phase of human freedom in which equality would coexist with government by all the people? Or would the whole thing be reduced to a mistake, a "War between the States," a mad family feud whose combatants on both sides should be revered for their suffering and heroism? And would African-Americans, some 10 percent of the population, have any say over what the war meant?
This is the subject of David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001). As I read through it, I keep being overtaken by echoes of current controversies. Some of these undoubtedly reflect that election of a Black president blows oxygen at hidden embers from the country's ongoing struggles to achieve racial justice. Other echoes simply attend how most of us assimilate and try to forget the horror of war. And some seem to point out the evil consequences to a society and political system that prefers "looking forward, not backward."
After the Civil War, everyone on all sides wanted to claim to be a victim. Blight points out:
This would be very convenient to Confederates seeking re-integration into the political systems of their states. After the defeat and until they were restored to full citizenship, they were enemy "rebels." Radical Republicans (yes, at that time Republicans were the modernizing progressives while Democrats were the racist Southerners) wanted to keep it that way; moderates pushed for reconciliation with former enemies. The essential compromise of the Reconstruction and aftermath (1865-1945) was to give African-Americans the vote (men only at first) , but do nothing to prevent white political leaders from disenfranchising and terrorizing the freed ten percent of the population.
It is interesting to read the terms in which the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis complained to a media figure of the day about his postwar imprisonment.
I guess Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo and Co. didn't have to learn their torture methods from the Nazis or Chinese Communists.
The strongest voices speaking out for a new democratic beginning that repudiated the slavery past and looked to a more democratic future were, not surprisingly, Black Abolitionists.
The war for a Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" that Douglass invokes was gradually expelled from national memory.
The year 1874 saw economic depression -- and any willingness to contest the growing (white) reconciliationist impulse was swept aside as Democrats (the party of racial exclusion in those days, remember) were swept into power.
If this sort of electoral turnabout is what fractious politics and economic collapse portends, we are in for hard times indeed.
After the erasure of the justice agenda implicit in the Civil War from our national memory, African Americans suffered nearly 100 years of intimidation and lynching before they regained any significant ability to participate in U.S. political democracy. For far too large a fraction of that community, an opportunity enjoy a fair share of the nation's wealth still is not even over the horizon.
If the multiple forces (abetted by too much of "our side") succeed in driving the abuses and follies of the 2000s from our memory, this time around we face a lawless, military-minded autocracy of the wealthy supplanting national dreams of freedom for most of us.
What to do? Keep practicing citizenship and screaming bloody murder!