Friday, February 05, 2010

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

I think history is fascinating, especially since everywhere you look there are parallels to events going on today. I'm currently watching lectures online from a Yale course taught in spring 2008 on the Civil War*. You can read the transcript of one of the lectures here, about the Kansas-Nebraska act and the birth of the Republican Party. I don't think for a second we're heading for a Civil war, but there certainly are a lot of parallels between the 1850s and the past few years. Here are a few excerpts from Professor Blight's lecture:

But the Republican Party was really born amidst hundreds of meetings across the North, to discuss the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to react to it, to figure out some way to politically resist it.
This is a poster, one of hundreds, thousands of posters from 1854 calling for a meeting. It doesn't even use the term Republican Party anywhere, just calling people together--it's in Chester, Pennsylvania I think--just calling people together to discuss the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to discuss what's really happened here, and to discuss the slave power.
What was born in that summer, and especially that fall, was the most rapid third-party political coalition movement in all of American history; and if you want a prototype for any possibility of that kind, any other time in our political history, this is it. The Republican Party, brand new--not six months old--will elect 100 people to the House of Representatives in the fall elections of 1854, and they will begin to draw together a remarkable coalition.
The Dred Scott decision also came down in the midst of a major American depression. The so-called Panic of 1857 broke out that very spring. The same time as Buchanan is being inaugurated, the Lecompton Constitution is being forged out in Kansas, the Dred Scott decision is going to be announced, the country is falling into a horrible economic panic. There are many causes of it.
Only three days after James Buchanan was inaugurated President, having just only narrowly defeated this new Republican coalition, news broke in Washington of something called the Dred Scott decision, and it would electrify the political culture of the country. It will fuel this Republican Party anti-slavery coalition as much as--in some places--as much as the Kansas Nebraska act ever had, and it will inspire Abraham Lincoln to run for the senate.
The Tea Party movement may never amount to anything more than a blip on the radar - I think we'll know more after the midterm elections this year - but doesn't it all sound eerily familiar? Spontaneous, grassroots political organizing, severe economic troubles, a fiercely divided electorate. These are interesting political times, no?

*Yes, the fact that I spend my free time listening to history lectures officially classifies me as a nerd. You should try it sometime. It's fun! ;-)

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2 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Sherry

    Very true, very similar.

  • Smockity Frocks

    I have had the same thoughts about this season of political turmoil and that one.

    By the way, the hotel I stayed at for my blogging convention (in Nashville) was the same one where the Tea Party was being held and Sarah Palin was speaking. I never saw her, but it was interesting to hear the complete contempt or unwavering approval from different folks commenting about the event.