My last post celebrated a good day: the day the Civil War ended. Our newly reunited nation rejoiced and nobody was more grateful than our President, Abraham Lincoln. Even before the war ended he was outlining the plan to bring back the states that wanted to secede. He articulated a process that would echo the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.
In one of the cruelest twists in American history, a man who hated Lincoln killed him 150 years ago today. John Wilkes Booth first devised a plan to kidnap the president as a bargaining chip to force the Union to ransom him in return for Southern emancipation. When the South surrendered on April 9th, Booth’s plan lost its purpose. Booth, a frequent actor at Ford’s Theater, found out on the morning of April 14th, that President Lincoln would attend the play This American Cousin that evening. He took that opportunity to kill Lincoln instead of kidnapping him. The plan was greater than that. He devised a plan where he would kill President Lincoln. George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Lewis Powell would kill Secretary of State William Seward.
George Atzerodt got drunk and didn’t attempt to kill Johnson, Powell was able to wound but not kill Seward, and only Booth carried out his mission.
Booth was shot to death on April 26th. Azerodt and Payne were executed on July 7th (along with Mary Surratt and David Herold)
On April 9, 1865 two men met at Appomattox Court House and signed a document that silenced thousands of guns and ended possibly the worst era in our history.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) surrendered the forces of the Confederate States of America to Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) and the Grand Army of the Republic.
Four years earlier the nation was torn apart when eleven states succeeded from the union in an effort to preserve states’ rights and slavery. Neither side expected the other to last long and both expected to win the war handily. The union didn’t think the confederates had the resources or commitment to fight a long war and the confederates didn’t think the union had the desire to preserve the union. They were both wrong.
By the winter of 1865 the nation was in shambles. About 620,000 soldiers died from combat, disease, or starvation. The confederates suffered the lion’s share and its troops were starving. General Lee recognized that he had no choice and asked for terms of peace. He had no idea what that would mean for him or his troops.
General Grant rose to the occasion. He told General Lee that his troops could go home (and not be prisoners). His officers could keep their sidearms. And the union troops fed the starving confederate troops. You can read more about this in an article written by Douglas Brinkley.
In fairness this was not their first meeting. They were both graduates of West Point (Lee in 1829 and Grant in 1843). They fought together in the Mexican American War from 1846 to 1848. As a matter of fact when they met at Appomattox they began to talk about that war.
Libraries have been written about this day but I have two recommendations. Bruce Catton (1899-1978) wrote several books on the Civil War and his last volume recounts the last days of the war. It’s called A Stillness At Appomattox. My next recommendation is a work of fiction that details a man who is walking home from the war. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier gripped me from page one.
A few days ago we learned that another Republican is running for President. Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky announced his candidacy.
Many of us find this interesting as Rand is more of a Libertarian than a Republican. He is the son of long time Libertarian Ron Paul. Ron ran for President in 2008 and 2012 hoping for the Republican nomination and wasn’t nominated.
Nobody can deny Rand’s (or Ron’s) libertarian beliefs. Rand has long believed that the government does too much, spends too much, and interferes too much in the lives of ordinary people. And there is popular support for this. If you asked most Americans if the government is too powerful, many would say yes.
But this is one of those areas where popular support begins to decline as more information enters the scene. Rand denies this but he once claimed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just an overreach. You can read an interesting article in the Washington Post.
I’m paraphrasing this but Senator Paul indicated that while he supports the Civil Rights Act he is troubled by the idea that the government has the right to tell private companies they had to do business with someone if they don’t want to. The interviewer then asked if he thought Woolworth’s (a popular five and dime store that often contained lunch counters that refused to serve blacks in the south) should be able to refuse service to Martin Luther King. The senator responded that he would never patronize a store that discriminated and that racism is a horrible sin. He believes that any business that discriminates would not stay in business long.
I disagree. In the past few weeks we’ve seen business announce they will not do business with homosexuals and they appear to have at least some support. Much as I don’t like to think about this, I believe there is enough latent racism in this country to allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of race and stay in business.
But with regard to Senator Paul I am troubled by issues that most people aren’t thinking about. Senator Paul opposes much of the regulatory power held by government agencies. So let’s talk about a few:
- The Food and Drug Administration: They make sure that the food we eat and the medications we administer are safe. It was founded in 1906, in no small part, after the publication of The Jungle by Upton Sincliar. A true libertarian believes that the government has no right to interfere with your relationship with your butcher or pharmacist. Me, I’m happy to know my food is safe and I’m really taking the medication I think I’m taking.
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: In the 1930s (the Great Depression) about 9000 banks failed in the United States. Everyone who kept their money in those banks lost it all. The FDIC was founded in 1933. If you keep your money in an FDIC insured bank, your money (up to $250,000) is insured if the bank fails. In turn the bank is required to follow FDIC rules. Without the FDIC you could never deposit your money in a bank and be sure it’s safe.
- The National Park Service: If you want to purchase Yosemite Valley or Appomattox Court House (where the Civil War ended) and develop condos, what right does the government to tell you that you can’t? And why does the government even own land at all?
Rand Paul has a rough road ahead: he needs to convince his fellow Libertarians he will remain true to their values while convincing Republicans that he will stand with them on issues that most Libertarians don’t care about (like Marriage Equality).
Soon I’ll be listing the candidates for President in 2016 on the left side of this page. Stay tuned.