By Nathan Barton
The severe beating of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by North Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks in the Senate Chamber on the afternoon of 22 May 1856 is emblematic of the increasing tension between the Northern and the Southern states over the issue of slavery. The beating nearly killed Sumner and the American public’s sharply polarized response on the subject of slavery in the United States was telling. Although it would be not quite five years (12 April 1861), before fighting actually broke out on a large scale, the beating has been considered a key example of the “Breakdown of reasoned discourse” that eventually led to the War Between the States.
This was no isolated incident, as the anger between the various states and their people grew worse and worse. As discussion became debate became argument. People of good will seemed to have backed away from even trying to keep the peace.
Today, we find the same polarization, and the same breakdown of “reasoned discourse” in the Fifty States. As was the case 170+ years ago, there are many subjects. But as a thirteen-year-old girl in a Raleigh, North Carolina city council chamber pointed out several weeks ago, the comparison between slavery and abortion is obvious and a major issue dividing the formerly United States.
The video of Addison Woosley’s comments to the council, and the boos and jeers she received, can be seen in a video by the News Observer.
There are several people who note that from the outrageous rhetoric and verbal assault made on this young teenager, to physical abuse and assault, is but a short step.
Before the War between the States, the level of rhetoric and the vitrol of opinions expressed grew year-by-year. Indeed, Sumner’s own beating was triggered (NOT justified) by his vicious verbal attack on Southerners, using language beyond the pale of that era.
The same things are happening in 2019 America: the screams (from all sides of most issues) grow louder, more shrill, and more vicious and intolerable. So much so that even those people who share political and social ideals with the screamers are attacked verbally and in the various media for their refusal to participate. And more and more, mere screams of outrage and accusations and name-calling are not enough.
Indeed, the assaults caused by the various sides of the political debate in this country are becoming more and more common. Consider, for example, the attacks on MAGA-wearing partisans in some places. Consider the extremists (on both sides, but especially on the part of the left) who threaten more and more violence, and are encouraged to do so.
At the same time, the physical and verbal attacks heaped upon those of a different political or moral attitude and opinion are just the tip of the iceberg. Although we pretend to be more civilized than our ancestors in the 1700s and early 1800s, we are still very much a violent society. And much of that violence is directed against the other nations and peoples around us, in the form of bombing and missiles and paying others to attack and kill. So, too, much of that violence is directed by employees of the state (government) against its own citizens.
More and more, that violence percolates down through society, and into the lower classes of society. Especially those on the fringe: the homeless (often mentally ill, and prone to violence), the dwellers in ghettos and barrios and reservations, the unemployed and underemployed. All of whom are increasingly seen by too many of us as less than human.
To say nothing of the unborn, declared by a large number of Americans and their politicians to be just that: less than human.
Regardless of whose blood is on these hands – and whose hands they are – we need to ask some questions. As lovers of liberty and self-governors, as free people who understand and accept responsibility for our actions. What blood, directly or indirectly, is on our hands? Once more, as in the 1850s and 1860s, people of good will appear to have given up – and that may include us. Even within the liberty movement itself, the level of discourse has deteriorated rapidly in recent years.
Think on these things.