The Last Best Hope? Understanding America from the Outside In
The "Did the South Win the Civil War After All" Episode
Series 2 (Michaelmas term 2020)
Published 14 October 2020
NB the text below was transcribed automatically by https://otter.ai.
Adam Smith 00:14
Hello, and welcome to the last best hope, a podcast from the RAI, Oxford University's Institute for the Study of America and its place in the world. I'm Adam Smith. One of the most striking trends in historical scholarship in this era of partisan polarisation and economic insecurity has been a return to something like a grand narrative of American history as a battle between elites and masses. 100 years ago, the so called Progressive School of historians, people like Charles and Mary Beard, argued that the United States have been characterised by a continual struggle between opposing economic interests. In this view, the Civil War was a Second American Revolution. As the Beards put it, it was a "social cataclysm, in which the capitalists, labourers and farmers of the northern West drove from power in the national government, the planting aristocracy of the South." The 21st century has seen a resurgence of something like this kind of sensibility, the perception that history has been driven by competing economic interests – though the big difference, I think, is that today's scholarship is generally much less materialist. That is to say, it doesn't assume that economic interests are in themselves the drivers of history, but focuses instead on ideas and assumptions: how the way that people see the world can reinforce or occasionally undermine power relations. These are some of the themes in the work of the prolific scholar and public commentator, Heather Cox Richardson. Among other things, Heather has written about how the Republican Party pushed its developmental economic agenda during the Civil War, and about how the American West with its myth of hardy masculine individualism, the cowboy idea, reinforced economic, gender and racial hierarchies. Heather's latest book, How the South won the Civil War, argues that while the Confederacy obviously lost the Civil War on the battlefield, and secession and slavery perish too, the vision of society that the Confederacy was fighting for, lived on. For Heather, what was so distinctive about the proslavery Southern leaders was that they were so overt about their vision of a society in which the freedom of some depended on the unfreedom of many. The most notorious illustration of this worldview was a speech given in the United States Senate in 1858, just three years before the Civil War broke out, by Senator James Henry Hammond, of South Carolina.
Reading: James Henry Hammond 03:10
In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class, which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mudsill of society and of political government. And you might as well attempt to build a house in the air as to build either the one or the other, except only as mudsill.
Adam Smith 04:08
James Henry Hammond was making an argument to defend human enslavement. But according to Heather Cox Richardson, the assumptions underpinning what he was saying, have never gone away. When I spoke to Heather, I began by asking about the title of her book. In what sense did the South win the Civil War?
Heather Cox Richardson 04:33
Well, the book argues that the ideology of the South, which was an idea that the world works best when a few wealthy white men run it, actually did survive the war and got regrouped in the American West, and gradually after World War Two came to take over the American political scene altogether. And that we are, in fact, at this very moment, essentially reliving the ideological Fight of the Civil War of the 1860s.
Adam Smith 04:59
Let’s just home in on what that ideology was then: what was the South fighting for that leads you to say that in the end, they won?
Heather Cox Richardson 05:09
The South is pretty clear – Southern leaders are pretty clear – that what they are fighting for is a world in which a few well connected, wealthy, educated men control society. And they articulate that in a number of places, most famously is the piece that I keep pointing to is the Senate in 1858, when South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond stands up, and he says, you know, you people in the north have it all wrong, that you think that somehow every person should be created, or every man I'm sorry, should be created equal. In fact, the vast majority of people in the world are sort of lazy and dull, and they're loyal. But basically, they just want to dance and eat. And which, by the way, is a really interesting precursor to language that you heard during the Nixon administration, quite famously. But they're basically lazy and they just need to be taken care of. And you don't, these people are going to work and they're going to produce a lot of value. But if you let them have control over what they produce, they're simply going to fritter it away, what you really want to do is consolidate that, that that power, that economic power that they produce into a very few people. Rather, as if you look at the structure of a house. So in a in a mansion, you would have the mudsills, which are the pieces of wood driven into the mud, literally to support the higher edifice. And he makes that explicit comparison in his senate speech of 18 58, in which he says most people are mudsills, and the rest of us are the ones who sort of consolidate that power, and move the country forward. And that idea of what is essentially an oligarchy, moving society forward by directing the labour and the product of the minions, if you will, was really clear, of course in Hammond speech, but then you have the wonderful – to a historian – Cornerstone speech of Alexander Stephens, who becomes the vice president of the Confederacy. He wasn't a senator from Georgia, in which the cornerstone speech that we all know quite explicitly says Thomas Jefferson had it wrong, that this was an error that the founders made that all men were created equal. And the new confederacy was going to get rid of that fallacy, and have this new dynamic society based on human enslavement. And that ideology, the idea that a few people should direct the labour of everybody else, because everybody else is somehow mentally and, mentally inferior, not physically, they're the ones doing the hard labour of society is one that I think you could see pretty clearly echoed in the present in the way that the current leaders of the Republican Party talk about direction of society, they want a few people to lead.
Adam Smith 07:50
So when you talk about the South winning the Civil War, what you, what you're doing there is you're shifting the focus away from the South's defence of human enslavement in in a legal sense, which of course was overtly what they were fighting for, they made that very clear, southern states, in their ordinances of secession, the documents that explained why they were leaving the union in 1860-61. But what you're saying is that the assumptions that underpinned the justification for a race-based system of enslavement, could also be used to defend an economic and social system in general, in which there was an elite at the top for whom the economy works very well, thank you very much. And then a mass at the bottom, whose labour could be exploited in one way or another?
Heather Cox Richardson 08:47
Yes, although I would add to what you said that it's not only a race-based system, and it's certainly not only elite white men and African American men or African American people as the south, as obtained, in the in the US South before the Civil War. That ideology, that idea that the world works best if it's run by a few white men also fit very naturally over the different ethnicities in the West. But it also was highly informed by a sexism by the idea that women don't have any kind of a role to play in the in the directing of society. And that ideology, I think, is behind not only the southern Confederacy, but also a great deal of American history in general.
Adam Smith 09:39
I know this isn't the main focus of this conversation, but it would explain why so many Northerners in the 1850s, and during the Civil War, were motivated to fight against what they call the slave, power the slave holders, who they saw as running the South and running the Federal government, even if they were themselves white supremacists, and had not previously been mobilised against slavery, they certainly weren't abolitionists, but the millions of these people who were nevertheless prepared to get, fight, against the slave power, because they thought that this movement was directly threatening their own interests as white men.
Heather Cox Richardson 10:23
I think that's exactly right. And have written about that in previous books. What the What white Northerners who are, as you say, explicitly racist themselves, are complaining about when they look at the slave power, which is a term that they that they develop, actually comes out of abolitionism, but they grab hold of it, is their concern not about slavery in the south, they've lived with that quite happily for for decades. What they're concerned about is that the Slave Power will move into the new Western territories and monopolise the resources there by moving in there, what they consider cheaper enslaved workers. And that will keep poor white guys from from moving in and moving up. And when that happens, they too will become part of this mudsill class, if you will. And James Henry Hammond, in his senate speech actually deals with that. And he says to the Northerners against whom he is speaking in, in the Senate that day, he says, you know, you guys have the same problem. But you have, you know, you have mudsills, too. And this is just the way the world works. This is, you know, he's sort of posing as a political scientist, he says, you know, this is the way the world works, but you people make the mistake of letting them vote. And if you let them vote, it's only a question of time until they're going to use their votes to claw back some of the wealth they're producing. And then where will you be, then your cities will go to ruin and, you know, he predicts all kinds of terrible downfalls. But he is quite explicitly saying that this system that he is arguing for, is the one that should direct society. And of course, that's what Abraham Lincoln the following year stands up and says, Hey, wait a minute. That's actually not the way this country is supposed to work. But that ideology, and then he articulates his own ideology for the the the country, which becomes the side that wins during the war, and theoretically replaces that oligarchic idea with the idea of all men being created equal, quite dramatically with the emancipation of slaves, and the inclusion of African American men in the body politic. But, but that is a really explicit response to this concept that that the southerners articulating that a few white men really do belong on top.
Adam Smith 12:29
We should bring in here this, this really critical idea, which is in a way that the kind of foundation of your book, which is the idea America is founded on a paradox of, on the one hand, the ringing claim that all men are created equal in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. On the other hand, the deep-seated and legally and culturally embedded reality of inequality, and the critical idea that you push in this book, other scholars, of course, have have made the point as well, is that those two things, far from just existing in tension – in a way, the easy thing to say is okay, there's an obvious tension here, there's an obvious paradox, you know, the old Dr. Johnson phrase about why is it that we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of, of Negroes, I think he said. The answer that is we hear the loudest yelps for freedom precisely because they're the drivers of Negroes. So it's not a tension. The one explains the other: the equality for white men is predicated on inequality and hierarchy. Do you want to explain how that that idea kind of underpins what you're, you're arguing in this book?
Heather Cox Richardson 13:48
Yes, I'd be happy to. But I have Sam laughing here, because you put it so much more eloquently than I did. In fact, the line in my introduction until the very end was, it's not a bug. It's a feature. I just wanted, I wasn't allowed to put that in a book. Yes, but remember, of course, that the that I am expanding on an idea that Edmund Morgan pioneered in American Slavery, American Freedom in the 1970s. And he was looking at specifically at the the Chesapeake region and how the you got the rise of human enslavement in a way of being a mirror of what colonists had come with, with the idea that there was an underclass of poor people in his explanation coming from England, that had been seen as a different class, you know, they were locked in that position for life. They were they were marked in certain ways, by their clothing, and sometimes by branding. You know, they were all you know, he made this argument and said that by erasing those people from the body politic, and saying, you know, we don't have to worry about these uneducated, lazy, whatever people, we can envision a world in which everybody else is equal. So I find that argument very compelling. I mean, there's a there are problems with that book, of course, but I find he asked the right question and I find it very compelling. So what I did was simply to take the step that actually Adam, you probably have forgotten but that you pointed out to me many, many, many – well, I shouldn't say that because we were young still. But we were once having a discussion in Harvard Square, we were at Au Bon Pain at Harvard Square. And, and you're looking at me like you have no memory of this. But I do. Because you said to me about, I think it was my second book, you said, a white man could never have written this book. Because what I did is I looked at it from a perspective outside. And the what at the time was the really dominant theory of sort of liberal historical writing, and I mean, liberal in the 19th century liberal, and said, Wait a minute, where are the women in this picture? You know, they certainly they're African American men and white and white men, but like, where's everybody else? Because there's also women here and Mexicans here and indigenous people here, and where are they? And so all I did was I took Edmund Morgan's idea and said, it's not just about white men and black men, it also that dominating system actually, obviously starts with indigenous people, because they're the first people who get enslaved when the colonists come. And then it certainly includes women as well who are not even on the scale of humanity for so many colonists. And, and that expansion of that idea that of inequality, inequality for anybody who was not explicitly a white man. And of course, there's some exceptions to that, of course, you can be initiated into that small club under certain circumstances throughout American history. But that expansion, I think, was in part enabled by the fact that I do study the 20th century as well. And when you look at the language, for example, of Pat Buchanan, and who was a speechwriter for both Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, you know, during the Nixon administration, they are quite explicitly declaring that the world should be divided in two and that there's us and them and them is people of colour and women who want to have a role in American society outside the home. And you you look at that really explicit construction of an us and a them, which, as we know, now, since the rise of totalitarian figures in the mid 20th century, is crucial to going ahead and cementing a voting population. I think it reads really quite naturally, and honestly, sort of, obviously back into the early 19th century, and really even back into the construction of the American nation.
Adam Smith 17:33
So at various points in the book, and the consequence of this argument is, that what we have to explain is why it is that non elite, white people and and white men, we're mainly talking about, vote for the party of oligarchy.
Heather Cox Richardson 17:53
That's a great question, isn't it? How does it democracy turn into an oligarchy?
Adam Smith 17:57
So the answer to that question, if I'm if I'm hearing you, you you correctly reading your your book correctly, is the the concept of a kind of, of a culture war, which you read right back into the 19th century, that these people are on some level, you're arguing, voting against their economic self-interest, but in favour of their psychic or political best interests by aligning themselves with the powerful group?
Heather Cox Richardson 18:23
Yes, and I would add something to that. I wanted the book really to capture the incredible positivity of, of this image that in America that anybody can work their way up, that idea of freedom, the idea of possibility, and well, there's a lot my favourite line in the book says something like, you know, they weren't either racists or small d Democrats, they were both at the same time. And that, I think, is the extraordinary power of this argument that oligarchs march out, is that it is not simply racism. And it's not simply you're better than them. It is also it also has the seeds of that extraordinary excitement. Anybody can make it. This is great. This is who we are. And that's why it's so powerful.
Adam Smith 19:06
And I think it's important to kind of to build on that because there is a danger here isn't there in as it were writing off large swathes of the American public today. And throughout history. I mean, perhaps 43% of the voting population as of this moment as being dupes. They don't think they're dupes. I guess nobody ever thinks they're a dupe. But there's got to be something powerful and positive that they think they're defending. So there are they evidently believed – whether we're talking about people who voted for Goldwater in 1964, or whether we're talking about people who voted for the Democrats in the 1850s – they evidently believed that they were defending something really important about their community about family values, about their religious faith, from something that was profoundly threatening and that was "other", that was un-American in some way?
Heather Cox Richardson 20:07
Well, I think that comparison is not actually Goldwater and James Buchanan, who was elected in 1856, which is the obvious place to go, but rather somebody like Andrew Jackson, because if you look at the language, for example that Andrew Jackson uses, or that Barry Goldwater uses, in both cases, they are promising a return in their minds to a world in which individuals really do have control over their own destiny. And that is, you know, in both cases, they build up their opposition in ways that are really unfair. But that's kind of politics, if you will. And you can really see somebody getting behind Andrew Jackson and getting behind perhaps Barry Goldwater with the language of you know, I'm gonna, I'm going to give you control the control of your life back to you. And that's what America is all about. Now, in both cases, especially with Jackson, because he does become president, we recognise that that's not at all how it played out, Jackson promptly threw the Indians off their land and took it all for himself and his buddies. But there's another key piece, I think, that perhaps does not get enough attention in this book, because I was focusing on ideology. And what happens is increasingly, as more and more regular ordinary voters, if you will, recognise that the oligarchs are moving in a direction that is not helping them, the people who are getting power under this new regime, begin to toss voters off the off the rolls, and begin then once they get enough power to actually manipulate the system to the point that it's not possible, for example, right now for a Democrat to win office in Wisconsin, no matter how many votes they get, because it's been so badly gerrymandered. And the same, of course, was true in the 1850s. When you get to the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln's delegates don't even appear on the ballots of most of the southern states. Well, it's really hard to win an election when your voters literally can't vote for you. And so it's not the the the, the the blame, if you will, for the rise of an oligarchy, I think rests a lot less on the ordinary voters that than some people might see when they look at where we are right now, as it does, I think, first of all, this ideology. But second, that once once these anti democratic forces come into power, they deliberately destroy the system that might give voice to other people. And you know, we're in a wonderful moment in this, for a historian and that in America right now, I believe this is the first election in American history right now in 2020, where nobody is arguing that the Republican candidate might actually win the popular vote. I mean, that's, that's out the window. And this is theoretically a democracy. Everybody is arguing about whether or not he can cheat the system in such a way that he's gonna win, even though nobody is arguing that he actually could win a majority of the votes. And that says right there, it's not about majority rule any longer. It is simply about manipulating the system. And that's precisely what you saw in 1860.
Adam Smith 22:59
Right. I mean, we I mean, Ronald Reagan, of course, did nevertheless win convincingly, re-election in 1984, albeit with a with a much whiter electorate than we then we have in in 2020. And Andrew Jackson with an entirely white and entirely male electorate actually not, not 100% white because we're there were some African American could vote in some New England states, but pretty much white and male electorate, of course, did win two elections, and I'm just I mean, I'm guessing that the, the people who supported Jackson, in 1820 and 1832, did think they were getting what they voted for, right? I mean, they voted to to take control of Native American lands in the south. And they got that. They voted to destroy an elitist institution, the Bank of the United States, which was a private monopoly. They got their populist hero. And I guess the people who voted for Reagan, including all those Reagan Democrats, they got a popular champion as well, who they thought stood up for them, at least rhetorically, and I'm guessing that Trump supporters today, think that.
Heather Cox Richardson 24:13
Well, but isn't that the question, though? Because, yes, in fact, let's start with the 1830s. They did get those things and the destruction of the second Bank of the United States threw America into one of the worst recessions it has ever had, certainly the worst it had had at the time. And it the backlash against Jackson was so extraordinary that we get the invention of the Democratic review and an attempt to create a new literature to try and convince people to stay behind small d democracy. And similarly, they do get the Indian lands, but as I say, the lands almost exclusively go to very wealthy men. So it kind of begs the question to me if, if a Jackson voter were looking at where the country was in the 1850s, would they continue to want to go down a road where well where wealth and power Is consolidating in that small group? And I think, first of all, I think it's understudied. But second of all, I think that, you know, Keri Ligh Merritt’s new Masterless Men suggest that no, they weren't happy about that at all. And if they had had the ability to control politics, they would have have, have perhaps not gone that direction. And similarly, you know, David Brown's book on on Hinton Rowan Helper's The Impending Crisis And How To Meet It, you know, that book, which basically said to poor whites in the South, you know, you guys are getting screwed over, you know, they had to suppress the publication of that. And similarly, in the present, you know, I think I do think that there's a real difference between today's Trump voters, and even 2016 Trump voters. But but it's a more interesting parallel, I think, is to look at Reagan voters, and to wonder if Reagan voters into in 1984, for example, had any concept of where the country was going to go? And would they support where we are now? And I think the answer almost across the board is simply no, I know a lot of those people who are now Biden voters. And that actually is, to me, very interesting, because one of the things I was trying to talk about in the book was how to ideological positions, especially political ideological positions, gradually start to, I always thought of it as around a pole, just gradually start to spin society around them, you start to get media, you start to get religion, you start to get all these things, supporting the idea that a few wealthy men should rule. And of course, I also talk about the moment after World War Two, when the opposite was true. You had after FDR, and Truman and Eisenhower, the idea that embrace Lincoln's idea that the government really should be promoting equality of opportunity across the bottom, because that's where true innovation came from. And similarly, at the time, that that ideology became absolutely dominant in in America through cartoons, Superman, and movies and music, and, and the the degree to which culture begins to revolve around these political ideologies. And that itself begins to, to change the way people think, to me is one of that theory behind this book, because there was one, was that what really changes American politics is, is ideas, and the power of ideas to shape culture. And this is, again, one of the reasons that I am now politically involved, the way I am trying desperately to change ideas.
Adam Smith 27:37
Thank you. I want to kind of return to the Confederacy to finish off...
Heather Cox Richardson 27:45
You and the president.
Adam Smith 27:48
Well, I'm just interested in your views, Heather, on whether we are at a really interesting tipping point. On the one hand, the extraordinary phenomenon of a president who openly embraces Confederate imagery. And then what we've had, as a consequence of that, is a backlash or there's a kind of iterative relationship between those two things. And so we've got to the point now, where there is a proposal to, I don't know where it's got to, but to remove the names of Confederate generals from US military bases, I mean, how extraordinary that there still are US military bases, or that there ever were US military bases, named after Confederate generals, but we have the president opposing that. But the US Army supporting it, and, you know, even even some moderate Republicans, if that's not a complete oxymoron nowadays, taking a more more nuanced line. We have Confederate monuments coming down across the country, in extraordinary numbers. And that reaction, you know, may well be, gather force, especially if Trump is forced to leave office in some way or another, and the Confederacy may finally have lost, at least in that cultural sense, setting apart the question of, of oligarchy. What do you think?
Heather Cox Richardson 30:13
Well, I think you're absolutely right. And and you've pointed to two things that I think are really important. The first is the military move to get rid of those Confederate, the names on on the Confederate, the Confederate names on army bases. And they're quite explicit about the reason for that or as explicit as any military leader can be. And and they point out that 40% of the US military forces are people of colour. So if you're going to go ahead and have any kind of cohesion across your units, you cannot celebrate white supremacy. And that I think, also points to the moment that, that I think, actually the Trump that Trump represents, and that maybe America is demonstrating for the world in a really profound and quite frightening way. And that is that the world has moved on. It is no longer a world that is dominated by white men, and we're seeing a reactionary impulse against that. But it's no accident, if you remember that the woman who took down the flag over, that flew in front of the South Carolina State House, the Confederate flag, I remember that moment so vividly. Like there's people for days standing around going, hey, someone should take down that flag, look, someone should take down that flag, is anyone going to take down that flag, we'd like to sit down that flag. And finally Bree Newsome’s like, screw this, and she just climbs it and takes it down. She's an African American woman. And, and there is this sense, I think, here anyway, that the world is moving on. And it's moving on from that old Cold War, if you will, image where a few hardy white Americans should dominate everybody else. And that I think, is profoundly frightening for people who feel that it leaves no room for them in the world. It's also a very exciting time for everybody else. And I think one of the reasons that, that that ultimately Trump is going to lose, is this is a movement that that also speaks to, to the world economy and to everything else, you know. It's really noticeable, I think, that so many now leaders in in American corporations are still white male, and I know that's a real problem for them, because you can't negotiate in other countries, when you came in come in with a kind of with a leadership team, that all looks exactly like, you know, carbon copies of each other, the world is changing. And, and we I think are perhaps playing out the the extraordinary tensions of what that change looks like. But at the end of the day, and believe me, we're in the middle of it right now. And it's not pretty. But at the end of the day, I just don't see this old white reactionary world surviving, at least in America. I worry about the rise of world oligarchy a lot, but but are we going to put up with it? I think the answer is no.
Adam Smith 32:44
I mean, you could, you could imagine the toppling of the old white guys as it were, and their supremacy culturally and socially – and as you say, there's loads of evidence that that is happening. And that feels like an inexorable process – but at the same time, the economic,the distribution of wealth, which, of course, is is more skewed now in favour of a microscopically small percentage at the top than it has been for more than a century in the United States, and in many other countries around the world, you can easily imagine that system being far, far harder to dismantle or reorientate, than the kind of cultural and social changes that you're talking about. And I mean, I guess you're saying that the one will lead to the other, the two are related, and the material change can follow on from a shift in ideas.
Heather Cox Richardson 33:41
That's always how I think. That you change ideas, and you will change the world. And think about America in the 1920s. I say, as people when people say to me, you know, the world and it's all over. It's, we're done. I'm not I'm always like, you know, you would have said the same thing in America in 1928, the Republicans had sewn up American politics forever. And by 1932, there's a landslide for for for FDR and an entirely new kind of American government. And you know, politics can turn on a dime. I do want to point out something that it seems astonishing to me that so few people are pointing to, and that is that, what does the taking down of statues always herald? It always heralds regime change. And the fact that that these are coming down, and people are somehow not saying, oh boy, this is a really big cultural moment when you pull down statues, that's really a major, major sign of societal change. And, and somehow, because it's happening in America, I think people are not like, oh, wow, they're taking down the statues. But I do think that culturally and psychologically, that's a really big moment. And one of the reasons that there is such pressure against it, but it's a big cultural moment that I don't think we should overlook because it does signal so much.
Adam Smith 34:55
We could talk about so many things, Heather, I want to just, I can't resist. I’ve just got one last question to ask you, you'll think this is a kind of cheeky one, really. But reading your book, I thought a couple of times, you know what, maybe if Northerners in 1861 had just let secession happened, or just let secession happen, the world would have been a better place, right? I mean, you could have had an independent South, which would have been horrific, abusivd place, but it would have been sealed off, would have been cut off from the rest of the Western world increasingly, with the anti-slavery movement solidified in the North. Rescue missions being conducted all the time across the Ohio River to help self-emancipating enslaved people, you'd have had the British Navy patrolling the Caribbean trying to stop any attempt to reassert the slave trade. And, well, what would have happened to the West, you'd have had a West then colonised and developed by the United States, which would have been more New England-dominated than the United States actually was. And the whole trajectory of world history ever since would have been different and possibly better. What do you think?
Heather Cox Richardson 36:10
I have a hard time arguing with that, to be honest, I mean, if you if you if there's any number of turning points, of course, if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, one of our the key issues was that Andrew Johnson tried to resurrect the South. If in fact, Lincoln had stayed in power and said, no, you guys can't do this, the sorts of things you're doing, things would have looked very different as well. Unfortunately, we are where we are. And and I think we have to go forward. But it is interesting that so many of us...
Adam Smith 36:40
...unless a new secession is the answer. Trump clings to power and there's a Cal exit movement, you could imagine a kind of Western Oregon, Washington and then kind of bridging across with Canada, and you could, you know, northeast could could could join in?
Heather Cox Richardson 36:54
Well, as you know, people are talking about that, and that we actually sometimes game that out, because it would be very interesting, as you probably know, California and New York, make up the majority of the of the federal budget. So if they decided to pull out, what would then the federal government held by Trump people do, to stop that, if they didn't actually take federal property the way that the Confederates did and say, yeah, sure, take your federal property, but we're going to take our marbles and join Canada or make our own confederacies. It was very interesting after coronavirus broke, and the federal government did nothing, that there were consortia in both the east and the west that said, we're going to cooperate together. And and there was a little bit of a ripple about that. And the federal government really never touched it. And at that point, they the federal government did try and do more than it had done before. Because it's a real ideological problem for them after all these years of saying states rights, states rights, states rights, what if the states actually say, fine, we're going to be our own our own group over here. It's a little hard to imagine how that would play out. You know, at what point then does federal government say we're going to march in and take you over after arguing for two generations that we can't do that? It's a very,
Adam Smith 38:08
I think ideological inconsistency is something that people on the right can can live with quite happily. But…
Heather Cox Richardson 38:14
That's fair, but it is it is interesting, as you're you know, as you're looking, and of course, people, the the, I think Stacey Abrams, put it puts it best when she says she should stop thinking about red states. What she should think about is voter suppression states. And I think that's fair. So the answer to maybe New York and California should go up and Massachusetts should go their own way is, Hey, wait a minute. We're Americans down here too. And don't abandon us.
Adam Smith 38:40
Heather, we could go in so many different directions here. But I think we must, we should end there, it’s a good point on which to end. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for joining me.
Heather Cox Richardson 38:51
It's always a pleasure. And you know, someday we should do this where we just talk about documents from like the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. And you and me and our three listeners would have a fabulous time.
Adam Smith 39:02
I look forward to that. Heather Cox Richardson, far from the only one to see echoes in today's politics of the battles of the Civil War. I'm Adam Smith, and you've been listening to the Last Best Hope podcast from Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute. If you've enjoyed this episode, please download the other episodes, subscribe and like us on iTunes to help other listeners find us. Goodbye.