WASHINGTON, July 18, 2016 — When President Obama spoke at the memorial service for the slain Dallas officers shot by a racist psychopath last week, he said:
“We turn on the TV or surf the Internet, and we can watch positions harden and lines drawn, and people retreat to their respective corners, and politicians calculate how to grab attention or avoid the fallout… Everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further. We need to temper our words and open our hearts, all of us.”
The president’s message was subtle, but the New York Times had no problem picking up on it. The Times warned its readers that the subtext to the president’s message meant “the country was probably in store for some heated political speech during the Republican National Convention this week in Cleveland.”
Obama and the New York Times fear the old American political tradition of “waving the bloody shirt.” It refers to the post-Civil War practice of Northern Republican politicians who summoned the memory of martyrs that died to end slavery and preserve the Union.
It originated with Republican Representative Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a former Union Army general.
During the Civil War, Butler reasoned that if Southern slaveholders considered black human beings property, should they escape and seek the protection of troops under his command, Butler would deem them “contraband of war.”
In a letter dated July 30, 1861 to the Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Butler wrote:
“Are they property? If they were so, they have been left by their masters and owners, deserted, thrown away, abandoned, like the wrecked vessel upon the ocean. Their former possessors and owners have causelessly, traitorously, rebelliously, and, to carry out the figure, practically abandoned them to be swallowed up by the winter storm of starvation. If property, do they not become the property of salvors?
But we, their salvors, do not need and will not hold such property, and will assume no such ownership: has not, therefore, all proprietary relation ceased? Have they not become, thereupon, men, women, and children? No longer under ownership of any kind, the fearful relicts of fugitive masters, have they not by their master’s acts, and the state of war, assumed the condition, which we hold to be the normal one, of those made in God’s image?”
Two years before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Gen. Benjamin Butler reasoned out his own legal and moral argument for liberation; the long, arduous route of his logic led inexorably back to an inescapable conclusion: the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.”
After the war, Butler served in the House of Representatives where he introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. During an impassioned speech in support of his bill, Butler waved a bloody shirt he said belonged to a man beaten by the Klan.
Congress passed the measure and it was signed into law by Republican President Ulysses S. Grant. The new law empowered the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Klan, which was the entrenched, well-organized and murderous paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party in the post-Civil War South.
The term “wave the bloody shirt” became a phrase used by Southerners to dismiss Northern condemnations of atrocities committed against blacks.
Sunday morning, three officers were killed in cold blood by Gavin Long, 29, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq.
One of the slain Baton Rouge officers was Montrell Jackson, a new father who is also an African American.
In an attempt to separate Long from race-baiting, anti-police demonstrators like Black Lives Matter, mainstream media outlets, like ABC News, described the Baton Rouge shooter as most likely associated with “anti-government groups.”
That’s media-speak for “right-winger.”
“He [Long] took up anti-government views, and while he said he didn’t want to be affiliated with any organized groups, he was a member of a bizarre offshoot of the sovereign citizen’s movement,” said the Kansas City Star.
But the Southern Poverty Law Center has this to say about the so-called sovereign citizens,
“The movement is rooted in racism and anti-Semitism, though most sovereigns, many of whom are African American, are unaware of their beliefs’ origins. In the early 1980s, the sovereign citizens movement mostly attracted white supremacists and anti-Semites, mainly because sovereign theories originated in groups that saw Jews as working behind the scenes to manipulate financial institutions and control the government.”
And so, it appears, America has come full circle. Violent and deranged black-activist groups, along with lone-wolf operators – egged on by demagogic statements by President Obama and other Democratic pols – have taken upon themselves the ideology if not the white hoods and robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
And as was the case under Union Gen. Benjamin Butler, it falls to Republicans meeting in Cleveland to “wave the bloody shirt.”