I’m whipping through a fascinating new book, “City of Sedition – The History of New York City During the Civil War” by John Strausbaugh.
While I fashion myself something of a Civil War and New York City history buff, I kid you not when I say I’m learning two or three new facts every single page.
The most striking thing about the book, though, is its timeliness.
I know the expansion of slavery into newly-admitted states was the cause of the Civil War. I also know about the bloodshed in Bleeding Kansas and elsewhere.
But, I was unaware of the pure hatred between longtime friends and family members that existed well before the war. While nearly every white person North and South viewed blacks as an inferior race, many, but not all, Northerners saw slavery as abhorrent. In fact, there were multiple factions within the North (and, in particular, New York City) who were fully committed to supporting the Southern cause prior to, and during, the war.
Surprisingly, the Big Apple’s Southern sympathizers were a mix of the one-percenters and the lower class of the day (sound familiar?). Manhattan’s merchants were making an absolute killing importing cotton from Dixie and then shipping it to Europe on ship after ship.
NYC’s other Southern sympathizers were the Irish Catholics. They’d already seen free blacks take away their low-paying jobs and worried that, once freed, slaves would take away whatever other low-paying gigs were left (again, sound familiar?). The Irish Catholics hatred and fear of blacks would lead to a week-long riot in Manhattan in 1863.
We’re surrounded by the same level of fear and hate today. We live in a country of sedition where supporters of Trump and Clinton shout and scream at each other in arguments that often escalate to fisticuffs.
I experienced this first-hand about a month ago when I dined with my 96-year-old dad who, while amazingly vital mentally and physically, espouses political views that would shame David Duke.
I was countering his more outrageous statements when a soccer mom stormed up to our table, poked me in the arm and said, “You are beyond ignorant. You’re a traitor and you’re supporting a traitor for president!” I tried to ignore her but, in a flash, her burly husband stormed our table as well.
“You giving my wife lip, a*shole?”
Keep in mind that I was with my 96-year-old dad and, at the time, was sporting an ankle-to-hip leg brace.
I took a deep breath, grabbed the table and lifted myself up. “Look buddy,” I said, if I had two legs and wasn’t with my dad, I’d be happy to take the conversation outside.”
At this point, the aggressors realized the entire restaurant had grown silent. The thuggish husband surveyed the scene, looked at my leg brace, glanced at my dad and then grabbed his wife. As he walked he away, he shouted, “We don’t talk to traitors!”
The issues have changed, as have the players. But, make no mistake. We are once again headed on a collision course between two completely different mindsets that will forever change the country in one way or another.
Lincoln preserved the union in 1865. I just don’t see anyone doing the same in 2016.