Divided America Stands—Then, and Now

Historian Allen Guelzo says the nation is more bitterly split than ever—with the exception of the Civil War era.

..  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.