Friday, January 7, 2011

The Wall Street Secessionists

The New York Times has a great blog called Disunion, following the Civil War as it occurred each day exactly 150 years ago. Today's installment discussed a fact I'd never heard, that for economic reasons New York City considered seceding from the union with the Southern states:

Much of the South’s cotton exports passed through New York, and the city’s merchants took 40 cents of every dollar that Europeans paid for Southern cotton through warehouse fees, shipping, insurance and profits.... Mayor Fernando Wood delivered a message to the Common Council, the city’s governing body, proposing that New York assert its independence as a “free city” by “disrupt[ing] the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master” — that is, the Union.

The more I read, the more it sounds just like today's Republican party. Here you have a partnership between the financial elite and the South to fleece the workers of society (then it was slaves, today its the middle class):

The city was a bastion of anti-Lincoln sentiment, and many of New York’s leaders had played dirty to prevent Lincoln’s election: Wall Street tycoons staged a short-lived financial panic and then informed the press that it had been caused by fear of Lincoln’s victory. Newspapers whipped up anti-Lincoln fears among working-class and immigrant voters. James Gordon Bennett Sr., publisher of The New York Herald, the city’s largest newspaper, cautioned the city’s working classes that “if Lincoln is elected, you will have to compete with the labor of four million emancipated negroes.” The New York Daily News — edited by the mayor’s brother, Benjamin Wood — warned New Yorkers that if Lincoln won, “we shall find negroes among us thicker than blackberries swarming everywhere.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The difference being that the two parties have exactly swapped places from what they were 150 years ago.

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