The House, Senator Cruz and References to the U.S. Civil War

Even though the U.S. Civil War was launched from states seceding from the United States, as an insurrection against the U.S. state, a rebellion by the slave-masters, it was not a war between states and was never deemed an “insurrection.”

January 7, 2021. New York City protest calls for Trump to be impeached | Liat_RO

– Hardial Bains Resource Centre –

The House Judiciary Committee arguing for charging Trump with “incitement to insurrection,” and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and the Senators who joined him in challenging certification of the vote, all use Civil War references to make their arguments.

New York City protest | Liat_RO

The Judiciary report uses the 14th Amendment, section 3, arguing the charge of “incitement to insurrection” is needed as the “threat that manifested in the Capitol is ongoing. The emergency is still with us.” This refers to the threat of violence in DC and State capitols across the country. The 14th Amendment is one of the three Civil War Amendments (the 13th ratified in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, the 14th ratified in 1868 and the 15th ratified in 1870). The 14th prohibits any person, member of Congress or officer of the U.S. who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion from holding any office in the U.S. The Committee says: “despite widespread bipartisan calls for Trump’s immediate resignation, the president has refused to leave office,” so they have to move to impeachment. Given that the grounds for impeachment are that the President incited insurrection, the 14th amendment can then be used to pass a vote in the Senate by simple majority to say Trump is blocked from ever again holding office. That is the punishment they are trying to achieve even after he leaves January 20.

At the time of the Civil War, the battle between Congress and the Presidency and the Supreme Court was also a main part of the fight. The Supreme Court said, in the event of war, the government was liable for destruction of property, including in relation to enslaved African Americans who were treated as property, as things, not human beings. As a war, the laws of war would apply. It would be necessary to delineate who is military, who are civilians, who are prisoners of war, etc. As well, the Supreme Court and Congress raised questions over Lincoln being Commander-in-Chief. The Supreme Court challenged him, saying he had not been called into service, as is stated in the Constitution. Even so, he did give himself authority as Commander-in-Chief, but did not call the conflict a civil war or even insurrection.

Even though Lincoln said by law he could not touch issues of slavery and promised not to do so in debates prior to his election, the Democrats, representing the Slave Power, basically said “we do not believe you.” All were contending with various uprisings of the enslaved people at the time, along with the raid on the U.S. arsenal in Harper’s Ferry led by abolitionist John Brown in 1859 which was an effort to strengthen the rebellions by arming greater numbers. This took place before Lincoln’s first inaugural address, in March 1861, where he continued to keep away from even mentioning civil war and slavery. He said things such as that slavery was an amoral institution, but his address mainly promoted reconciliation, for preserving the federal union under the Constitution.

The Democrats then in Congress rejected that and went back to their various states and basically organized coups in their states. Some at first tried to have assemblies and referendums but that did not work as people were against secession. So they organized coups. Shortly after, the Confederacy was formed, with its Articles of Confederation, its own flag, army, uniforms, generals, etc. In April 1861 the Confederate forces laid siege to and fired on Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the Civil War.

Lincoln still tried to avoid calling it civil war or insurrection. He referred to the actions of gangs, marauders, hooligans. It is not until his Gettysburg Address in November 1863 that he called it civil war. The general argument he supported was that slavery as a system was on its way out and free labour was on the rise, thus slavery would die out on its own. It is significant for arguments made today, which are pushing insurrection instead of reconciliation, even though Biden presents himself as a unifier. This includes calling for the removal of House Representatives who challenged certification of the Electoral College Vote for being “supporters of insurrection.”

The Civil War was launched from states seceding from the United States. It was launched as an insurrection against the U.S. state, a rebellion by the slave-masters. It was not a war between states. If Lincoln accepted it as war, it would be considered a war between distinct nations states, and involve international relations and the laws of war. It was also not simply to secede, but rather to also settle which forces would dominate the Americas. People in Lincoln’s cabinet were actually offering Canada, Cuba and Nicaragua to the Confederacy, saying this would give them lots of room to expand and manoeuvre. It would be better to choose empire rather than wage war against the government, they argued. But the Confederacy wanted it all.

Most of the generals in the Civil War got their experience in wars against Mexico and with the westward expansion and its genocide and wars against Indigenous peoples. This includes Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis (the general, not the head of the Confederacy) as well as Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union Army as Commanding General in winning the Civil War and subsequently served as the 18th president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. The Confederacy was not simply defending the system of slave labour but all the connections serving their interests with northern merchants, railroads and the world market of the day.

Despite the fact that between 600,000 and 700,000 people were killed during the war, Lincoln did not even want to call it an insurrection. But on January 11 the House wasted no time in calling the events of January 6 an insurrection, as opposed to a riot or a violent protest or other similar language. By relying on the 14th amendment, first they have to say Trump incited insurrection and then they can make use of the content of the 14th Amendment to block Trump from holding office in the future.

The time period of the 14th Amendment, which is during Reconstruction (1865-1877) was also raised by Senator Ted Cruz on January 2, in the letter explaining why Republican Senators were challenging certification of the election. The letter raises the issue of the 1877 presidential election, the Hayes-Tilden race. That time period was raised to delegitimize Biden’s election. Cruz said in the letter that for the 1877 dispute Congress did not dismiss concerns about the election. He introduced the period of crushing Reconstruction, with federal troops removed from the south in exchange for which Hayes got the presidency.

“The Philadelphia Militia firing on the mob, at the Twenty-Eight Street Crossing near the Union Depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad, July 21st” | Picturing Protest: The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

“The Philadelphia Militia firing on the mob, at the Twenty-Eight Street Crossing near the Union Depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad, July 21st,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, August 11, 1877 | Heinz History Center Blog

According to arguments of the time, charges of insurrection were also used against the workers fighting to defend themselves. Big upheavals were happening in terms of the development of the U.S. state. The trans-continental railroad was completed and there was a serious depression after the Civil War, in 1873. By 1877 the Baltimore & Ohio railroad (B&O) was completed. In West Virginia, the railroads twice cut wages and workers went on strike. It turned into a national strike and general strikes were held in specific cities like St. Louis and Chicago. The national strike lasted from June to September of 1877 and saw some of the most violent battles, put down by federal troops and the Pinkertons, a private police force. A lot of other workers such as iron workers, steel workers and coal miners also went on strike and used armed resistance. All were part of the battle for an eight-hour day. There was recognition that the working class had emerged – black and white together. Newspapers of the time are filled with headlines and arguments that the Paris Commune – the revolutionary uprising of French workers who seized control of Paris in 1871 and governed in the interests of the workers – was coming to the U.S.

Cruz picked up on this history. Reconstruction was a period that witnessed a broad flowering of democracy, especially in the south where state constitutions were being rewritten and debates on women’s rights, voting, representation, people’s assemblies, were taking place. While it was partly an opportunist argument, he also specifically picked a period during which Reconstruction was smashed. Perhaps he is worried there will be a repeat of the 1877 uprisings.

The fact that both the House and Cruz are referencing this period is reflective of the reality today that the ruling factions, who no longer have mechanisms like a functioning Congress and elections to resolve conflicts, will drag the country into a violent civil war and that they consider that the current movements of the people threaten their rule as more and more demand a new direction for the economy and politics. 

As W.E.B DuBois, a recognized authority on the Civil War and Reconstruction said, both involved a general strike and an effort by workers, black and white, to carry forward the elimination of all enslavement.

TML Monthly Supplement, January 17, 2021

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