A slave empire in a nation, and a colony in a nation

Chris Hayes – A Colony in a Nation

Last time out the MSNBC host of All In wrote what amounted to an elegant master’s thesis elongated into unforgiving book form. His second book uses the metaphor of the Colony versus the Nation to explain why millions of young black men and women despair at living in a country where a citizen’s corpse can lie on torrid asphalt hours after police shot him:

If you live in the Nation, the criminal justice system functions like your laptop’s operating system, quietly humming in the background, doing what it needs to do to allow you to be your most efficient, functional self. In the Colony, the system functions like a computer virus: it intrudes constantly, interrupts your life at the most inconvenient times, and it does this as a matter of course. The disruption itself is normal.

At the 2000 Republican National Convention. cops found weed on Hayes, then a reporter accompanying his father in law, but let him go anyway: a fate, he is sure, a black man would not have shared. The grim truth inspired this examination of our grotesque carceral state and the ways in which local government nickel and dimes the poor. Acknowledging his white privilege so he can think through and past it — Hunter College High alum, law school professor wife, reporter father in law — Hayes often stumbles over his earnestness; it’s as if he wanted a pinch on the cheek for his efforts. But MSNBC’s best public face and political reporter can also write; for example, he notes, in a pungent aside, “the inexorable migratory logic of white fear,” which resulted in the abandonment of cities and creation of suburbs.

Matthew Karp – This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

In 2017, we have to remind fellow Americans that the South seceded because it wanted to prosper as a slave empire. I use the last noun intentionally. Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy is an excellent corrective to the purveyors of dangerous kitsch and defenders of statues of Confederate war heroes who sit as governors and pontificate in legislators south of Virginia, north of Florida, and east of the Mississippi. Footnotes like John Forsyth and Abel Upshur pop up regularly in Karp’s readable account of how Southern men ruled in the State and War departments from the Van Buren to Buchanan administrations (Jefferson Davis  served in Franklin Pierce’s White House), devoted to the notion that a hemisphere free of British nonsense about abolitionism meant markets free for cotton and the breeding of a slave class devoted to picking it. Karp summarizes the thinking of John Tyler’s secretary of state Upshur: “his anxiety about hostile British abolitionism; his faith that concentrated American military power could defend American slavery; his presupposition that the entire Western Hemisphere should be an American domain.”

In fact, Tyler — a personage remembered at best as the first vice president to ascend after the death of the Chief Executive — emerges as a Southerner of untempered aggression, eyeing Texas and holding out hope that Cuba would fall into American palms. Fetishists of the imperial presidency forget Tyler because he was a man without a party by the end of his single term. By 1861 he was a man without a country: the Virginia Secession Convention nominated him to serve in the Provisional Confederate Congress.

Inspired by John Calhoun — who while senator and Tyler’s third secretary of state propitiated meticulously reasoned constitutional defenses of slavery — these Southerners who worked the federal till were, to quote Karp, “committed to a bold, nationalistic understanding of naval policy,” and showed, in the era of phrenology and the first stirrings of archeology, a “buoyant optimism about the evolution of scientific opinion on slavery.” What was the Mexican War about except the acquisition of territory? Intimating that conservatism need not encompass limited government but instead, crucially, endorse a rigorous assertion of federal powers for the preservation of hierarchies, feudal and economic, is one of the many pleasures of Karp’s narrative. “I am quite a Monarchist out here,” cooed Virginia congressman Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett for a proslavery pamphlet circulated in Brazil, yet another country with a labor system that only a mint julep-drinking master of the whip could love.

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