". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Swash and Oratory, Struggles for Power: 1809 - 1853

Before going to sleep I Iive so intensely in this smaller United States of Clay and Co. that it's not unusual to dream about it.

These biographies ande political histories that I've been reading of the giants who bestrode the U.S. in those decades devote many pages to describing their journeys.

They are always traveling because it is a new country, straining at its seams to become always larger, with more opportunities for these ambious individualists to become very rich very fast. They are always traveling because they are politicians -- not just back and forth between their home states and D.C.. Their lives are campaigns: for their re-election (not that either Jackson or Clay had to worry about re-elections during their political careers), throwing their support to the election of this one and that one, the defeat of those others, for their causes and against the issues of others. Thus the journeys recounted in so much detail -- who they meet with, what goes on at the continual dinners -- feasts they'd be called in the high medieval and renaissance eras of the monarchies, serving the same purposes as the feasts of those other eras on another continent -- and what the local and national papers write about these meetings -- and the speeches. Always giving speeches, though Jackson doesn't much -- partly due to his messed up mouth and toothlessness, partly it's because while he was more fearsome to his reluctant troops, he didn't have the gift of oration in this Age of Oratory and Rhetoric. Jackson has his surrogates though, including his newspapers and his cadres of editors and writers -- Buchanan wanted so much to be one of his surrogates, but he no more than Jackson could move and shake audiences with his words, whether written or spoken.

Travel was difficult, painful, lengthy and dangerous. During the course of the era of Clay and Jackson there are transportation as well a communications improvements, but the Improvements are a huge political issue: Clay's American System of federal and local funding and support of improvements vs the Calhoun philosophy that not only are such public works unconstitutional but are a plot against the Slave Power by the North. Gag Rule and Nullification for the Slave Power! Bridges, Canals, Roads, Rail for the North. They steam frequently to the Caribbean, for vacations from their exertions, to recover from their many and varied maladies, to Cuba in particular, which helps power the Slave Power’s ambition to annex Cuba to expand slavery.

Then they're always sick with something, including for some of them, old wounds, from fighting Indians, rom duels, or accidents suffered while traveling. Every one of them could ride a horse, spending days in the saddle, covering hundreds of miles between home and the ferry or boat -- and finally steamboats -- that will take them to D.C.

Reading about these vital figures who left footprints in our national history so big that contemporary politicians are still pretending to fill them is as colorful and exciting as reading the best of historical fiction. But like you, probably, as a woman I wouldn't want to live then, particularly not as a woman of color.

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

I have discovered a British artist who was here early in the 1850's and made paintings of slaves being transported by rail for sale in the south -- and from there, sold again, and marched in coffles to the Deep South or even Texas, or sent by ships, to be sold once more.

“"Moved en masse, by boat or train or, most
often, on foot, (via forced marches in slave coffles) from Virginia,
Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states to key cotton
producing states in the lower South – Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

“three quarters of a million slaves were removed from the old slave
states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, [and] North Carolina and the
DC to states in the DS and SW. In the last decade, 1850-1860,
migration accelerated, with 193,000 slaves transported over state