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Benjamin F. Butler: Why All Men are not Created Equal


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Benjamin F. Butler, 1870, Wikipedia.org

“The political system of this country is founded upon what Rufus Choate once termed a “glittering generality,” contained in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” This is a truth as applied to political rights, immunities, and burdens, but an utter absurdity so far as it is made to describe other mutual relations of people.”-Benjamin F. Butler

It is not surprising Benjamin F. Butler begins his autobiography with an opinion of equal rights and how those rights contradict themselves in the line of the Declaration of Independence; “all men are created equal”. Butler’s life and work were all about equality. He articulated well his idea of the definition of equality, and how the United States society’s interpretation differed. The cause of this difference according to Butler is while the definition of equality meant people and their actions were recognized legally, judiciously, it did not apply to the equal rights of individuals. Butler was not alone in his thoughts. Many other folks recognize this problem such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Butler obsessed about it because of his passion for the law and helping those who were unable to help themselves obtain equality and justice (1).

Butler’s analysis of how the “all men are created equal” caused a problem for equality in the U.S. makes a lot of sense. He uses the horse for an example of this. He explains that a horse is just a horse but when divided into different species each is quite different in its abilities. Therefore, not every horse is created equal. Like all people of the world, each belongs to a different class. Higher class horses are bread differently so that the can achieve results or meet higher expectations. People are born into these separate classes in the same way. By birthright, there is no automatic equality. Therefore basing equality on a false assumption in the Declaration of Independence unintentionally set the United States up for generations of misunderstanding about equality that is still relevant today(2).

Notes:

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 33.

2 .Declaration of Independence. http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/

 

 

History on Saturday-Million Man March 1963


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Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, where many various groups organized a meeting for people to come together to show their support of the Civil Rights Movement. It culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have a Dream Speech.

This is a popular event in history but one that is repeatedly told through popular history circles. If one were to grab a few books and do some research at a local library they would find there was much more to the civil rights than that. Dr. King himself was a small part of the movement. Not unlike today, people tended to rally around those they felt confident to be the fore runner for justice in our country and he was chosen for the civil rights movement at the time. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for it too. Today we celebrate his life, work and death as we keep the memory alive and his dream lives on in the hearts of many. He would be amazed at the progress we have accomplished since that time but he would also tell us to keep working toward our goals.

I am including some webs I found to visit that offers insight into the importance of the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and the march. Enjoy!

The Civil Rights Movement:

http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/1945-present/civil-rights-movement

Dr. King:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/mlk/

The March:

http://www.npr.org/news/specials/march40th/march.html

Benjamin A. Butler-A Different Kind of Gent


Benjamin A. Butler

Benjamin A. Butler is a fascinating character in US history for a number of reasons. In 1818, he was fortunate to be born during revolution and change in the country. He grew up in Massachusetts and was most likely well off since he was able to attend college at Waterville, Maine. In 1838, he graduated with a law degree and pursued a criminal defense career in Lowell, Massachusetts. Perhaps he chose criminal defense as a way to serve the poor of whom he sympathized with and rallied around.

Benjamin A. Butler was also a military man with a long history of service under his belt. He served as Brigadier General in the Massachusetts Militia, which was kind of like today’s National Guard, and with the Union Army during the Civil War. His participation in the Civil War not only brought him full tilt to the front lines of the poor but also face to face with slaves. Butler used his talents in law and military organization as a strategy that helped slaves, supported the Union and helped the poor through charitable opportunities which arose as consequence of the war.

The US Civil War played out with soldiers and guns on one side and by politicians on the other. Butler didn’t allow this to sway his decisions but determined the best course of action by evaluating the situations he came across at the time. The first sign of this was when he confronted a slave problem in Virginia. The problem was what to do with slaves who had escaped in the South or had been abandoned. Congress had recently enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mandated that escaped slaves be returned to their masters and were not considered “free”. Butler was a man of law and questioned this situation of runaway slaves in times of war.  These escaped slaves had become “impressed” into the construction of batteries. He also could not fathom the idea of abandoning the slaves while invading towns and pushing masters to leave their plantations, so he took the slaves as contraband. As Sydney Nathans describes in his book,  To Free A Family: The Journey of Mary Walker, anti-slavery organizations celebrated Butlers ideas of devising a way to help by using his knowledge of the law. According to the law, slaves were property and in time of war confiscated property was considered contraband. The idea of contraband satisfied two problems Butler saw important to focus on. First, he confiscated slaves so they could not aid the southern war effort by being impressed. Secondly, by helping the slaves it gave him political support back home in Massachusetts,  primarily an abolitionist state.

In 1862 when Butler and his forces invaded New Orleans he saw wealthy aristocrats taking advantage of the poor. Being a man who sympathized with the poor and a history of successful organization of his troops, set upon empowering people to turn their hardships around. He even dipped into his own pockets to get the ball rolling. Many of the people he helped were Southerners unable to provide for themselves due to male head of households being whisked off to join the war. Butler gathered contraband slaves and put them to work helping with tasks. Some of this must have inspired his support of black troop units back home to serve in the Union forces.

Benjamin A. Butler’s legacy continued for years after the Civil War. He continued to serve in politics and continued to use his love for law to help represent those who were forgotten by society. He was able to see corruption with Andrew Jackson’s administration. He was able to see that politicking and reconstruction after the Civil War sought to keep tempers flaring in the south by keeping free blacks suppressed with terrorism and intimidation. He continued work with the passing of the Ku Klux Klan Act and Civil Rights Act. He seemed to be the right man for the job at the time. His background, education and love for fairness and law led him to opportunities that he embraced with the best of intentions and heart. His successes and failures teach that decisions are made with everyone involved and the outcomes will affect everyone as well. If one group or side is not taken into considerations the outcome can be far more detrimental. His ideas set up social programs and systems that aided society during war and its aftermath. He showed how organization can aid in military strength for support of any operation. Lastly, he showed how law can work to benefit those who are oppressed by the social elite and powerful.

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1968: A Pivotal moment for African-Americans


     1968 was a pivotal year in America’s civil rights movement. Black Americans were still suffering from white supremacy of which met them at every tuned opportunity to advance in their standards of living. Martin Luther King Jr., a spokesman for black Americans, preached reform through peaceful means. Even more so, he warned Americans that situations of unrest would occur in the event this fell upon deaf ears or further spurred black’s civil rights infringement. Feeling a lack of support for them, Black Americans grew impatient with bureaucracy in waiting for their needs to be met or not at all. In 1968, all of these things came to a head in April of that year.

Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in Memphis on April 5, 1968. Just days earlier he stood tall at one of his many speaking engagements preaching his message of peace not violence as a means to secure civil rights for all Americans. Angry, shocked and hurt, Washington, DC. black residents flooded the streets and local businesses to release their pent-up frustration. They looted, rioted and shouted the need for action and this time no amount of police force would deter their ambitions.

The following day schools and government offices were open as usual. This was unlike President Kennedy’s day of mourning after his assassination. In protest of this unfair action, a more liberal black activist, Stokely Carmichael, persuaded local black business owners to shut down and close in a wave of defiance against white’s lack of sympathy showed the black community. The looting and fires lead to the discharge of National Guard troops who were not allowed to fire upon the rioters.  For once, blacks were not ruled by police brutality. After the riots, the first black mayor of  Washington, DC., Walter Washington, was placed in charge of the city, supported by President Johnson; a pro-Civil Rights leader. Blacks that remained in these looted and rioted areas took over soon after as segregation ended and middle-class black families moved away. What remained was a new community built by blacks and protected by blacks so strongly no white person dared to venture there.

What was learned from this trying time in 1968 was thatAmericawas ready more than ever to end segregation and to begin to allow law to work for the advancement of civil rights. Black Americans would not sit idly by and be intimidated into accepting things the way they were. They mourned Martin Luther King Jr. and honored him by picking up the torch and carrying his vision with them into the future. Americans also learned that violence on violence was not the answer and it could not control the black community; strong as any other in its determination for political freedoms.

The Fires of 1968 Marker Photo, Click for full size

Today a marker stands to remind those who pass by to remember lives lost and reborn on the eve of major advancement of the civil rights movement.

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