Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Michael Fellman's "In the Name of God and Country"

Michael Fellman is professor of history emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is author of Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War, Citizen Sherman: A Life of William T. Sherman, and The Making of Robert E. Lee, and co-author of This Terrible War: The Civil War and Its Aftermath.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, and reported the following:
Charles Caldwell pleaded, begging to be taken home to see his wife before he died, but the mob refused. Caldwell said, ‘‘Remember when you kill me you kill a gentleman and a brave man. Never say you killed a coward.’’ Preacher Nelson carried him up from the cellar and dropped him in the middle of the street, and then all the men shouted, ‘‘We will save him while we got him; dead men tell no tales,’’ while they riddled him with thirty or forty bullets. At about the same time someone killed Mrs. Caldwell’s brother Sam on a nearby street, shooting him off his horse with a bullet through the head.

That afternoon, a newly arrived trainload of white paramilitarists from Vicksburg marched into the Caldwell house, where Charles Caldwell’s body and that of his brother-in-law had been brought, and barged into the parlor where several of their African American friends had gathered. Making as public a tumult as possible, the widow later recalled, ‘‘they cursed them, those dead bodies, there, and they danced and threw open the window and sung all their songs and they carried on like a parcel of wild Indians over those dead bodies. Some even struck [the bodies] and challenged them to get up and fight.... Then they said they could not stay any longer.’’

The next day, Judge Cabinis came by and with great paternalistic warmth asked the widow whether there was anything he could do for her family, claiming that he had done everything he could for her husband but that those wild men could not be stopped and he was now ‘‘crazy’’ with grief over the killing. Margaret Ann Caldwell replied to the judge that she had seen him standing in the crowd that killed her husband. She told him, ‘‘Judge, you have already done too much for me’’; ‘‘I don’t want any part of your friendship.’’

The leaders of the white South called themselves Redeemers when they organized as white-supremacist state parties, dedicated to the abolishment of Reconstruction, the Republican attempt to reform the South by guaranteeing civil and political rights for African Americans. They succeeded. They saw their activities as more than just a political strategy. The redemption they intended was a moral and religious revival of the southern white ‘‘nation’’ as well as a political conquest: they intended to preside over the rebirth of a sacred white community with a blood ritual—the spilling of as much blood as it would take to seize control of their states by destroying the political viability of their hated opponents. In most places, the Redeemers used terrorist campaigns to seize state power, similar in many ways to the recent Bosnian Serbian paramilitary campaigns that the rest of the world has defined as terrorism and war crimes.

When seizing power, Redeemers acted as preemptive reactionary counterrrevolutionaries. Although Reconstruction was a halting and partial experiment in biracial government rather than a reversal from white power to black power, the Redeemers loathed it as an immoral revolutionary movement designed to crush the white race, the natural rulers of the South. They feared all forms of black political participation, seeing it as a precursor of black domination, and they anticipated with intense anxiety a race war initiated by armed and organized blacks. This was the perceived black revolution from which they intended to save their race.
Page 99 of In The Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, comes from the opening of Chapter 3: “Blood Redemption: The Counterrevolutionary White-Terrorist Destruction of Reconstruction.” In 1875, in Mississippi, as elsewhere in the South, white supremacists organized a massive and well-coordinated terrorist movement to destroy the Republican state government and seize power. This example, concerning the death of Mississippi State Senator Charles Caldwell, one of the major African-American leaders of the Republican Party in that state, was, along with many other accounts, drawn from US Senate hearings held the following year.

This chapter on the “White Line Movement” in Mississippi, serves as a case study of the reactionary uses of terrorism in American history. In general I argue that terrorism has been common in American history, political violence used by the state as well as by those opposing it, by reactionaries as well as revolutionaries, and that action and reaction in terrorist exchanges, taken together, constitute terrorism. In this instance the reactionary terrorists imagined a black revolutionary movement, groundless rumors they used to rationalize the destruction of their enemies by the most violent means. The Redeemers reworked mainstream values of American Republicanism and Protestant Christianity as the ideological grounds for their terrorist movement, rationalizations that contained a core of moral absolutism and self-righteousness that they used to dehumanize their enemies while destroying them.

My other case studies are John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and the judicial murder of Brown by the State of Virginia, race warfare and guerrilla warfare during the Civil War, the collision of anarchist revolutionaries and the repressive State of Illinois at and after the Haymarket Affair in 1886, and the terrorist means used in the American-Philippine War of 1899-1902, the first American colonial war. This post 9/11 analysis is designed to further understanding of the current “War on Terror,” in a more realistic, historically grounded, and less morally one-sided framework.
Preview In the Name of God and Country, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue