So who was the original Cassius Clay? The simple answer is that he was a prominent abolitionist politician in the mid-1800s. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives and was appointed ambassador to Russia by Abraham Lincoln.
But that’s not the whole story. Known as the Lion of White Hall – Cassius Clay was named after the estate and plantation he owned and grew up on – he was also one of the toughest politicians ever to walk the halls of Congress. He won duel after duel, and his physical exploits are legendary. Not only that, but he was also an open and vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery in the 1840s, in Kentucky of all places.
Two brilliant women—one black, one white—assemble a spy ring in the rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia that eventually attempts a ‘mission impossible’ inside the military planning rooms of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
.. it wasn’t because Taney was the most vile pro-slavery ideologue in the country,” Mr. Guelzo says. “He wasn’t—I mean, the man had actually emancipated his own slaves. And while he certainly wasn’t friendly to abolitionists, that’s not why he wrote Dred Scott the way he did. He did it because the situation in 1857 seemed to have demonstrated that neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch was capable of arriving at a solution for the slavery question. So who steps up into the batter’s box? The judiciary—we will settle this.”.. “Because these slave states were all contiguous, they could look at a map and see themselves as a political unit.” Eleven did in 1860-61... If you look at Democrats and Republicans since the middle of the 19th century,” he says, “the political culture of the parties has not changed all that much.” Their policies may be drastically different, but “that’s the tip of the iceberg. What you want to look at, as far as historical continuity, is the seven-eighths of the iceberg below the water.”.. The other components pairs do seem continuous for both parties, as Mr. Guelzo says. Morals: Democrats, “individual”; Republicans, “collective.” Economic system: Democrats, “static”; Republicans, “dynamic.” Philosophy: Democrats, “Romantic”; Republicans, “Enlightenment.”.. Democrats preferred the economic uniformity of a society of small farmers and artisans but were more tolerant of cultural and moral diversity.”.. political style, a cousin of philosophy: “Democrats love passion, Republicans love reason.”.. “Lincoln is as reasonable as a Vulcan with Asperger’s,” Mr. Guelzo says. “If you listened to him for five minutes, you weren’t impressed. If you listened to him for 25 minutes, he had you, because you couldn’t argue. He had done all the work.”.. Republicans think of themselves as Americans first, whereas today Democratic localism takes the form of subnational identity politics... decline in national solidarity, Mr. Guelzo cites Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s public assertions .. that the Iraq war was a failure... In the 1850s, “you had brawls on the floor of the House of Representatives. One of the most precious ones was when William Barksdale from Mississippi got into a flying fistfight with a Northern representative, and one of them reached out to grab him by the hair and pulled off his wig.” That was in 1858... “The people who always wanted to silence others, always wanted to have the lynchings, were the pro-slavery people,” he says. “It surprises my students, as it should, that Southern postmasters were given free rein to censor the mails coming into Southern post offices. They could take material that might be suspected of being abolitionist in nature; they were allowed to destroy it—because you didn’t want a slave who might turn out to be literate to read any of that, now did you?”.. “By getting it out of the states, it’s removed an opportunity for it to become that kind of sectional issue. I’m not saying that as a fan of Roe v. Wade, but at least we haven’t gone to war over it.
You wouldn’t say that Preston Brooks sucker-punched Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber in 1856—but only because he used a cane. Brooks, a South Carolina congressman, began bludgeoning Sumner, the anti-slavery Massachusetts senator, while Sumner wasn’t looking, and beat him unconscious as Sumner was still bent under his desk trying to stand up.
.. Brooks and his supporters in the South saw the incident as an act of great valor, as the historian Manisha Sinha writes. Brooks bragged that “for the first five or six licks he offered to make fight but I plied him so rapidly that he did not touch me. Towards the last he bellowed like a calf.” The pro-slavery Richmond Enquirer wrote that it considered the act “good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequence.” Other “southern defenders of Brooks,” Sinha writes, praised Brooks for his “manly spirit” and mocked Sumner for his “unmanly submission.” It would have been manlier for the unarmed Sumner not to have been ambushed... Sumner gave a speech accusing Butler of having chosen “the harlot, slavery,” as his “mistress.” Brooks’s defense of Southern honor was to ambush an unarmed man reaching under his desk. As Sinha writes, Brooks later said that attacking Sumner with a cane, rather than challenging him to a duel, was an attempt to humiliate Sumner for his abolitionism by treating him like a slave... Northern papers rightly saw Brooks’s act of violence against Sumner as an attack on free speech.. Despite Brooks’s public bravado, many of his contemporaries understood that what he had done was an act of cowardice... Anson Burlingame, a representative from Massachusetts, denounced Brooks on the House floor... The Times reported at the time that the proprietor of the shooting gallery “had witnessed, in his time, some accurate shooting, but nothing that equaled this.”.. Brooks’s headstone would later say that heaven itself never opened its arms to a “manlier spirit.”.. The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people; it is in no sense strange or odd that slaveholders would see no incompatibility between their concept of freedom and valor, and ambushing and caning a man who said something that hurt their feelings... Gianforte attacked a man professionally obligated not to fight back. He initially accused Jacobs of being the aggressor and justified the assault by describing him as a “liberal reporter.” He hid from reporters all through election day, and as Brian Beutler points out, apologized only after he had won the seat... Physically attacking journalists for asking questions is cowardly. Every single person who defends it is engaging in an act of cowardice. The notion that Gianforte was merely channeling the rugged frontier culture of Western mountain men when he attacked someone who asked him a question is laughable and patronizing... It is not 1856, but these are the politics of a false valor forged by fear. It is the undercurrent of a politics that defends grown men who stalk black teenagers in the night and then gun them down when they raise their hands in their own defense; it is the politics that rationalizes Ohio police shooting a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun without so much as a chance to surrender; it is the politics of mass deportation and Muslim bans and Blue Lives Matter bills. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor; it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind.
.. That logic is properly realized in the avatar of a president who mocks those who served and suffered while having avoided service himself; who brags about sexual assault behind closed doors and threatens to silence the women who say he assaulted them; who ridicules disabled people then denies doing so; who calls the press the “enemy of the people” when reporters write stories that upset him; who attacks religious fundamentalism from the safety of a podium in this country and then genuflects before its most powerful representatives abroad. Brooks is long dead, but the heirs to his peculiar notion of bravery govern America still.