It’s been a while since I shared a “reading table” post. It was popular the last time I shared this list so I thought it might be worth sharing again.
I just finished reading How The South Won the Civil War, by Heather Cox Richardson. Heather Cox Richardson is a very good historian, and a professor of history at Boston College. She has written other books on U.S. history and seems to specialize in U.S. political history. She also has a popular weekly newsletter called “Letters from an American.” I find her writing of history well researched, fair, and informative. I would say the same for her weekly newsletter, “Letters from an American.”
Ok, so what did get from How The South Won the Civil War? A lot, and in some ways I learned some U.S. history that gets very little to no attention in standard U.S. history classes. What am I talking about? I am talking about the paradox that goes back to our founding and the problems with our history as a nation that wrote slavery write into our Constitution from the beginning. You might want to start with the “all men are created equal” stuff and work forward from there. It is no secret that many of the founders had problems with our new Constitution and its institutionalizing slavery. They argued about this and recognized they were walking away from Philadelphia as hypocrites. They left the problem of slavery and its place in American democracy for a later generation to solve. Some said that dealing with this at the time the Constitution was being born, “…would have killed the baby at birth.” Does my opinion of our founding fathers get diminished in all of this? Yes, it does. I also recognize that in 1787, the colonies where slavery anchored the economy were dominant in the birth of the American nation.
Ms. Richardson writes about a lot more of our history pre Civil War and post Civil War. Again, she writes a history that is not going to make everyone feel like, “Wow, we are so great.” And you know what, the truth is we are not. We have been fallible and continue to be fallible. The issue of race has not been solved in our existence yet. We fought a Civil War that ended with a military victory for the North, but a political and cultural victory over race and racism is still waiting to happen here.
When my children were younger, I used to think how fortunate they would be growing up in a world and in America where the poison of race, prejudice, and bigotry were put to rest. Oh, how I deceived myself in my thinking. I never dreamed that our politics would take big steps backward as they have now and our leaders would use division and race for their own political advantage. There is no uplifting story here – sorry.
I recommend Heather Cox Richardson’s book, How The South Won The Civil War. I went to her book trying to find answers for what has happened to our country, in my mind, in the last 40 years. My intuition told me to look at the time of Reagan in the 1980s for a starting point as it seemed to me that this is when our politics went bad. Sometimes, it is hard when you have a front row seat to notice the trees for the forest. This is how I would describe my understanding of our recent political history. I knew something had changed in the Republican Party, but I did not know enough to explain or understand it. I just knew it was not the party of Eisenhower, and in fact, President Eisenhower would probably not be welcome in today’s GOP.
My understanding of the period of Reagan to present has grown by reading Ms. Richardson’s book. She is not some talking head for the Democratic Party. She writes history, blemishes and shameful acts included. I have a better understanding of the GOP agenda now – something that was evading me. I knew the Democrats are, if anything, really the same party. There is no new leaning to a radical left unless you think health care for all is some sort of Communist plot. It’s not, and it really is no different than our Social Security/Medicare system. Plenty of us depend on these programs, myself included. Does wanting an expansion of Medicare make me a raving communist? I don’t think so, but keep in mind I have an immigrant and blue collar background – might just make me someone Joe McCarthy would want to hunt down before I subvert the country – oh, so crazy!
My Dad used to get frustrated with me because he said I told too much about a book so why read it. I can still hear him saying this to me. I’ll stop now and let you discover Heather Cox Richardson for yourself – she is worth the effort.
There is more on my reading table and I will share some more in a later posting.
I should add a post script. This has been part of a long effort I have been making to understand what happened in 2016. I started with some of the more simple explanations, but I knew it was more than just frustration in the Rust Belt. The second part of this quest has been to try and understand how the Republican party has morphed from the GOP of the pre Reagan period to the GOP of today. I knew the GOP today is not the GOP of my parents or of anyone that grew up in my lifetime. In fact, the GOP today more closely resembles the John Birch Society, a hard right movement that sprang up in the late 1950s. All of this is a bigger quest for me and it is still on-going. The book I share here today is a good read and not part of a partisan agenda. We get enough of that stuff as it is.
Take care and be safe,