John G Bell


Fall '03 – Gomez & Unsel

Response Paper

Through Long Years of War: Southern Redemption and the End of Reconstruction

A. Synopsis

Neither the Civil War nor slavery ended with the cease of official hostilities. The violence and the bondage continued to be central issues for the next hundred years of American life, politics and justice. Attempts to move past these issues merely created distractions that allowed them to regain momentum, like a potential forest fire in each carelessly ignored spark. The greatest fan to the flame was from the old guard aided by the apathy and ineffectiveness of progressive white citizens. Ultimately, it was the spark of emancipation that ignited an increasingly effective and organized resistance within the African American community. Like the controlled use of fire to create a fire break, this resistance has contained the blaze of injustice and violence that continues to smoke and smolder under the surface of American society.

B. Response

The constitutional project is an ongoing and incomplete work that requires proactive enforcement. The amendments were codified, unrealized ideals. [Goldman p16] The constitution is in some ways the text of a secular theocracy, a vision statement for an earthly political paradise.

During the reconstruction the legislative branch gave up fighting, the judicial system gave up fighting and the executive branch gave up fighting. “Confronted with the wholesale slaughter across the south, federal officials did virtually nothing.” [Irons p196] “Faced with over-whelming evidence that local officials turned their backs upon the black victims of this campaign of terror, federal courts waffled and then retreated, leaving freedmen to the mercy of local mobs and hooded terrorists” [Goldman pX]

The primary cause of this abandonment and retreat was that the tools available, like the Enforcement Acts and the federal circuit court system, were all reactive. [Goldman p24, et al.] The tools available were inadequate in themselves and not even sufficiently supported by the local or national government. [Goldman p35, et al.] Another cause was the constant political struggle over the judicial system and appointees to the Courts [Goldman p34, et al.] and the way that the juries were biases and politically motivated to avoid impartial conclusions of law. [Goldman p38] Further, the commitment of the people to an ideal was shaky as even those that supported progressive legislation failed in the follow-through “when their racial supremacy was challenged.” [Goldman p45]

This shows that it is essential for the constitutional project that proactive, generative actions be taken to create and actualize the ideals in the document and amendments. The constitution isn't so much a document that tells the way things are already, but a vision statement toward which the government strives. This means, therefore, that programs like affirmative action, social welfare, are an essential element to the realization of the vision. Contrary to the idea that “punishment is the means; protection is the end” [Goldman p98], in fact, the national government has a duty to create these proactive, actualizing programs even in the “absence of 'positive provisions'” [Goldman p99] Aided by sustained, popular dissent, [Goldman pp147-148] these kinds of tools are the necessary proactive, generative acts towards the realization of the goals of the constitution and amendments. The vision and mission of the Constitution are under constant attack and must be continually reaffirmed with both reactive and proactive measures or we have abandoned the promise and potential of the constitutional project.

C. Questions

Are the Bourbons [Goldman p118] genetically connected to any current pro-business conservatives active today? Were they the precursors to the Dixiecrats or the Neo-conservatives?

The idea that the Constitution “knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens” [Goldman p127] seems to be historically false and no more true today. Isn't it the very myth of a classless society that helps perpetuate injustice and inequity? The constant sell of the American Dream is like the paper thin promise of Las Vegas glitz. It's an addiction to gambling, reinforced by intermittent rewards, where we pathologically ignore the fact that the house always wins.