The Story of Emancipation and Slavery on July 4, 1865

If any vision of American citizenship was to become a reality on July 4,1865 it would have to be reconstructed at the intersection of sacral language, manhood, military service, and historical narration. If the vaunted ideal of liberty, so revered in parlance and so reviled in practice, was to hold any real meaning it could only be created through the building of usable origin stories to define the political possibilities of the new nation. The narratives of slavery and emancipation, the Lost Cause, immigration, and westward expansion fit the criteria. First each vision of history held its own sacral language. Second, each carried its own unique vision of war, of manhood, valor, bloodshed, and service in a righteous cause. Third, each historical ideal could be interpreted in terms of all the others, thus providing a self-enclosed circular logic of what the American nation ought to be. These stories gave concrete meaning to the abstract conceptions of liberty mentioned by many and maintained by few.

During the long decades prior to the Civil War, Americans created a moral language in opposition to slavery. Now, on the eighty-ninth anniversary of Independence they applied that moral language to understand the nation. The narrative of slavery and emancipation stood as one of the foundation stories of the new republic. In plotting the outlines of the nation, unionists, cast the narrative of slavery and emancipation in religious terms and thus erected a chronicle of a land redeemed and a nation restored. So, James Lynch argued that “the colored man’s original right to freedom” was found in “the first chapter of the book of Genesis. “William Howard Day, maintained that an old-testament religion mandated anti-slavery principles proclaimed at Sinai, and quoted the Shema:“I am the lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage. Nathanial Smith also spoke of slavery in similar terms: “Never, since the shadow of Heaven’s wrath darkened the pavilions, where Egypt’s Magicians muttered their spells in vain, has a people known such gloom.” The Mayor of Boston quoted the Apostle Paul and named slavery a “thorn in the flesh,” to George Boutwell it constituted a “sin,” while to Congressman William Cutler of Ohio it was a “leaven” that “nearly corrupted the whole mass” of the nation.

The reading of freedom into holy writ, the quoting of the Shema, the identification of slavery with Egypt, and the sacral language describing slavery helped to reinforce a narrative of Americans as god’s chosen people. In this story God chose Americans, like the ancient Israelites, for a special work and a special purpose. Further, echoing the words of John Brown and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, where sanguinary bloodshed serves divine providence, the sacred chronicle of a slavery narrative contained the thesis that the Civil War stood as God’s judgment on the nation for the crime of slavery. Thus, William Cutler spoke of living nations “born from ideas,” identified the American nation with the Jews of ancient Palestine, and argued that “when they went after Idols, God scourged them back to their cardinal faith. “William Howard Day quoted the Noahide covenants in Genesis that “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed,” and the injunction against theft in Exodus popularized by Charles Elliot: “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” Henry W. Adams spoke of the slave-holding oligarchy that “grisly ghost of southern retrogression,” which for seventy years had “elected and controlled the government and the Supreme Court, muzzled the press, hung paddocks on the lips of free speech, banished the school house, profaned the sanctity of marriage, and subsidized dueling, lynch law, and treason” in order to “terrify mankind into subjection to their barbarous institution.” The divine punishment for national acquiescence, to southern slavery had been, Adams argued, “a land of wailing widows and orphans crying for their fathers and brothers far away in unknown sepulchers, with faces upturned to the wild daisy and to God.” Similarly, the Reverend Frederick T. Brown, created an image of the Antebellum nation as “sick unto death,” and unaware of its sickness, “leprous from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot,” from the disease of slavery. In Brown’s cosmology of the American nation “fathers and mothers” sacrificed “idolized” sons, “wives” sent “their beloved husbands to see them return no more” and siblings watched “brothers sleep the sleep of the slain” all to “purify this heritage of God” from the stain of slavery. The language of divine judgment, of active male sacrifice to purify a female nation, served to create a sacral narrative of sin and redemption centered on the national experience of slavery.

The religious language centered on slavery, with its attendant fundamentalism created a national story that served the same function as a European ethnic nationalism centered on a common ancestral past. In the effort to create a nation in the aftermath of Appomattox, these stories of slavery, drawn from pious tradition, allowed certain white unionists, abolitionists, former slaves, and free blacks to create a common national understanding of the American past. Moreover, in many of these narratives of sin, judgment, and redemption, slavery stood present at the discovery of America. Henry W. Adams spoke of “Columbus” who “stained his immortal name by the capture and enslavement of large numbers of American aborigines.”[Both Adams and Day narrated the founding of Jamestown in 1607, and relayed how shortly afterward, the slave trade began in earnest. In this narrative of American history “the shout of the freemen” contrasted with the “wail of the bondsmen” in a macabre duet.” Additionally, the religious language surrounding slavery underwent a reinterpretation in the aftermath of the civil war. Prior to the war, proslavery advocates emphasized the Hamitic myth as a biblical justification for slavery. Now with emancipation a reality in Georgia, James Lynch reinterpreted the parable as a source of pride: “They tell us we are the descendants of Ham, the naughty son of Noah. Then our race first gave science, art and learning to the world.” In Lynch’s retelling of the Hamitic myth, “the sons of Ham founded Egypt” and “Egyptian civilization has been transmitted to every succeeding nation on the face of the globe.” For his reinterpretation of what was once a slave-holder’s story Lynch quoted Psalm 105 where “Israel also came into the land of Egypt and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.” As James Lynch illustrated, more than creating a narrative of sin and redemption, by placing slavery at the founding of the nation, as an inherent part of the national experience, Unionists formed an epistemological framework placed African Americans at the center of the national story—a narrative which erected a logic of black civil rights in the aftermath of civil war and emancipation.

To be an effective appeal for citizenship and civil rights, the story of slavery and emancipation, aside from appealing to a nineteenth century theological framework, also had to function in tandem with other themes in the broader American story. First, by narrating the story of slavery and emancipation alongside with the arrival of Englishmen at Jamestown, and Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, African Americans and their white allies, framed the experiences of black Americans as an original part of the nation. Second, the story was also a narrative of migration to a new land. However unwilling or forced and whatever the vagaries of the middle passage, only by casting the story of slavery as a story of migration to a new land whose “virgin soil” in the words of James Lynch was “left untouched for thousands of years by the ploughshare” could former slaves, free blacks, and white advocates of equality before the law, advance the cause of civil rights.

The narrative of slavery and emancipation also needed to fit within the framework of westward expansion and progress. The Rev. Brown in his oration expressly linked the growth of pro-slavery ideology to the nation’s westward expansion. He began by saying that when the Constitution was adopted “there was but one opinion on the subject of slavery” that it “was iniquitous and unprofitable.” He then went on to argue how after every major acquisition of territory the price of slaves had doubled rising from $300, to $600 after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, to $1000, after Florida’s annexation in 1819, and to $2000 in 1845 after the Mexican War. Setting themes for future historians, Brown held that through purchase, conquest, and expansion slavery “ruled the country” and underwrote the “politics, the literature, the social customs,” and “the religious and theological faith” of the American nation. As Congressman Henry Winter Davis declared “the expansion of our territory inspired [slavery] as it grew in strength, first with a desire for permanence, then with a desire for power” asserting its dominance in the Missouri Compromise, the conquest of Texas, the compromise of 1850, bloody Kansas, and culminated in the Dredd Scott Decision. In short, westward expansion provided the lens through which many unionists understood the growth of the slave power in antebellum years.

Further, the westering ideal of America as a land for a people, for a people without a land, posited, in the aftermath of emancipation, a justification for black landownership. Massachussetts state senator James T. Robinson, described the recently freed slaves as “without land, without the means of education, without rights in the courts—utterly at the mercy of his former master.” Former slave and longtime abolitionist, William Wells Brown said that he feared under these conditions that African Americans in the South, “will be ground to powder.” Yet, as Pastor Andrew L. Stone argued the nation owed former slaves “a grand reparation for ages of wrong,” and the logic of national expansion supplied the means of argument. Already in 1863, the nation had guaranteed one hundred and sixty acres of the public domain, as long as the occupant could pay the five dollar filing fee. Now, victorious unionists annexed the logic of a free public domain, and the story of westward expansion to advocate for African American homesteads. William Howard Day, echoing Henry David Thoreau, spoke of the westward “star of empire” and the “lands which God keeps for the poor, which “stretch away and away ‘to the distant west,’ even to the threshold of the golden gates.” And, in Bellpere, Ohio Congressman William Cutler argued that in the South, former slaves should possess “the public domain on the principles of the homestead law,” and “the further benefit of the confiscation of the large landed estates forfeited by their crimes of their former rebel owners.” The framework of progress and westward expansion, freed from the slave-power, formed part of the argument for black landownership in the aftermath of the Civil War.

While the paired stories of migration and westward expansion as understood through the narrative of slavery, the narrative of Confederate defeat, when subordinated through the same lens, also helped to frame the case for the emergence of African American rights. Unionists in the aftermath of Civil War fully understood the realities that the Civil War had visited upon the South. The physician, John Howard Pugh said that “the south has been impoverished by the war. “James T. Robinson added figures to the picture arguing that the South “lost six thousand millions of dollars” of its seven billion in taxable property extant in 1860. Congressman Henry Winter Davis in Chicago reminded his auditors that “American blood has flowed on both sides,” and spoke of “three hundred thousand” southerners “laid in bloody graves.” The Chaplain of Massachusetts cadets, S. K. Lothrop told of “the desolate plantations, the ruined towns and villages, the multitude of battlefields, the whole scene throughout that whole region of the country from the Potomac to the Mississippi.” Yet, the picture of the South’s defeat, far from reconciling the nation around a picture of common valor on July 4, 1865, helped to bolster the cause for black civil rights in three important ways.

First, many speakers viewed southern ruin as the just outcome of a war fought to perpetuate slavery. James Robinson quoting scripture compared the South to the whore of Babylon: “Alas! Alas! That great city Babylon; that mighty city, for in one hour is thy judgment come.” Massachusetts’s Congressman George Boutwell, said of white southerners that “they are of a race which through two centuries has been contaminated by the vilest crime, thecrime of slavery” which has given birth to conspiracies, for the perpetration of the crimes of arson, of murder, of treason, of assassination,” transgressions “as could not have been committed, or even contemplated, in any other country or by any other people.” Likewise, the Rev. J. M. Manning, Boston’s orator of the day, quoted the English poet Joeseph Addison, and summed up the feelings of many union veterans on July 4, 1865: There is some chosen curse/Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,/Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the wretch/Who seeks his greatness in his country’s ruin” In short, the South deserved its punishment in both sacral and secular language for perpetuating slavery and visiting upon the nation the bloody vicissitudes of civil war.

Second, the story of the war, in William Howard Day’s words, “the great wave of blood” rooted in slavery, which “for two hundred years has been sweeping over you,” and in 1861 was finally visited on “the hearts and homes of the nation” offered its own justification for black enfranchisement. Americans on the winning side had not yet forgotten about African American war-time service. The story of black veterans created its own narrative of manhood and military service, which further bolstered claims for the civil rights of former slaves and free African Americans. In a letter to the Christian recorder published July, 8, James Lynch said that the “the presence of colored soldiers and officers of the army” in Augusta, Georgia was evidence of divine providence. Seargent William A. Warfield, of the 119th C.I. in Kentucky described the celebration of black soldiers at Camp Nelson as an “age of wonders,” and went on the argue that “if we would obtain our just privileges we must strive for them.” A soldier of Echo Company, of the 41st U.S.C.T., writing on June 30, 1865 said “we have done all that soldiers could do to wipe out this terrible rebellion,” despite marching on half rations and without pay for eight months. Corporal George Thomas, told of his unit on dress parade in the public square of Louisville, Kentucky where “as we are drilled very well, the former slaveholders open their eyes, astonished that their former Kentucky working stock are capable of being on an equal footing with them at last.” These black union veterans emerged from the Civil War with a sense of duty, manhood, patriotism, and valor, which only soldiers know. The Army taught them how to stand at attention and how to walk in formation, tested their physical limits as they half-dozed on their feet during forced marches, placed the government’s insignia on their shoulders and weapons in their hands. In turn, these veterans, many of them former slaves, arose at the end of the war, to claim their rights as men and citizens in the new republic.

Third, the victorious Union did not forget their sacrifices on this first Anniversary after Appomattox. New Hampshire Congressman, James Patterson argued that the “freedmen are now citizens of the United States, and their rights and liberties must be protected by that government which they have helped to preserve by their blood.” The Governor of Illinois, Richard Yates, said “the negroes have had sense enough to be loyal, and fight for the government; while their masters have only had sense enough to be traitors, and to fight against their country.” Nathanial Smith, addressed the black soldiers in Woodbury, Connecticut directly and praised their valor: “Side by side with our own race, you, colored soldiers have shared the danger and shall equally receive the glory.” The Rev. Andrew Stone related how “the sands of Morris Island,” and “the chasmed mines of Petersburg, give crimson witness to their valor and patriotism.” Stone also remembered that “Weitzel’s colored brigade” had provided “the first measured tramp” of Union Soldiers “that came up the streets of Richmond on that third of April morning.” Henry Winter Davis said of black soldiers that “on many a bloody battlefield they have proven that they are men, not beasts,” that “today’ on July 4, 1865, they “have a part in the Declaration of Independence which they never had before,” which “they have earned.” Clearly, the sacrifice of African American civil war veterans acted as a further justification for citizenship on July 4, 1865.

The nation had reunited but had not yet reconciled over the common valor of soldiers North and South. Nor, had the nation thus far excised the valor of African American soldiers from its collective consciousness. As a result, the story of black manhood, fully realized through wartime service, created its own logic of equality before the law that in conjunction with reimagined narratives of migration, westward expansion, Confederate defeat and the sacral language of slavery and emancipation created a path to citizenship for African Americans. As William Howard Day, agrued at the nation’s capital, the Civil War created a path out of the despotism of “thinghood” and into a fully realized “manhood.”[ The strength of these narratives, provided the intellectual framework for the 14th amendment first proposed by Congressman Henry Winter Davis during a speech in Chicago.

Prior to the amendment, the old narrative of citizenship centered on the constitution and on the immigration and naturalization act of 1790. Both of these documents wrote a conception of whiteness into the founding of the American republic. Their revision by the proposed amendment in the aftermath of the war has often been characterized by historians as enshrining the concept of birthright citizenship into law. Yet, the amendment, despite its proposed wording, did not function as a guarantee of citizenship and civil rights for all inhabitants of the American nation, as the experiences of Ely Parker illustrated. Instead, the proposed 14th Amendment laid down a construction of citizenship based on the over-arching narratives of American history present on July 4, 1865. Each clause reflected the stories of immigration, westward expansion, emancipation, and Confederate defeat.

The National Anti-Slavery Standard carried the full text of the proposed amendment:

No state shall make any distinction in civil rights and privileges among the naturalized citizens of the United States residing within its limits, or among persons born on its soil of persons permanently resident there on account of race, color, or descent.

The language of “no state shall make any distinction in civil rights and privileges” mirrored the new understanding of the primacy of the federal government. As the Reverend Frederick T. Brown, told his hearers, the doctrine of state sovereignty “was an insidious principle of evil,” and represented one of the causes of the Civil War. The wording surrounding “civil rights and privileges,” was intended to circumvent the black codes, like that passed by the town of Opelousas, Louisiana on July 3, 1865, and to guarantee a modicum of civic protection to freed people in the South. The narrative of immigration guaranteed that the “naturalized citizens” of the United States would be put on an equal footing with “persons born on its soil,” while the rhetoric of “persons permanently resident there,” which found expression in 1866 as “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was included to bar the nation’s indigenous inhabitants from citizenship and fit the narrative of an ever expanding nation. Finally, the amendment made no mention of gender, illustrating how these stories, and the rhetoric of citizenship remained overwhelmingly tied to ideals of manhood and military service.

Far from enshrining a principle of birth-right citizenship or fundamental equality into the nation’s thought, the proposed Fourteenth amendment stood as a legal document that created a vision of citizenship rooted in the moral-historical understanding of the unionist, anti-slavery sentiment of the American nation after Appomattox. Congressman Henry Winter Davis revealed the narrative underpinnings of the Amendment: “When negroes become free, they become a part of the people of the nation, and to ostracize them is to sanction a principle fatal to American free government.” Moreover, in the emancipationist vision of history offered by Davis, the proposed amendment served as a means to break the power of “a hostile oligarchy” already emerging in the South. To secure this aim, and prevent the further domination of the new federal government by the old slave power, as many referred to the South on July 4, 1865, the nation needed “the votes of all the colored people.” Broadly speaking, the framers of the 14th amendment did not seek to create a “non-racial democracy” in the new country after the end of the Civil War, but to advance the cause of African American citizenship, and create a climate in the South where loyal unionists would be free to exercise political power.

The belief that the American nation could overcome its history grew out of the story of slavery and emancipation as understood on the Eighty-Ninth anniversary of Independence. In sum, the narrative created an understanding of race where slavery stood as the “sole cause of prejudice.” In the words of New Hampshire Congressman James Patterson “the great underlying struggle between free and slave labor” was the foundation of “a prejudice that has no foundation in principle.” Or, as Massachusetts Congressman George Boutwell argued, “the people of this country,” maintained “a prejudice against the negro race such as human beings never felt toward any of the animate creation, from the foundation of the world until now.” Likewise, James Lynch believed that “where slavery has not existed and its influence has not been prevailing” prejudice “does not exist.” The historical narrative surrounding slavery and emancipation offered an origin story of the causes of discrimination, and also posited an ideal of a nation redeemed.

With the Civil War finally over, with emancipation a reality in many but not all places throughout the South, with the thirteenth amendment making its way through the states for ratification, and with the newly proposed fourteenth amendment in their pockets, Americans who placed the narrative of slavery and emancipation at the center of the national experience, held out hope of a nation delivered from racial animus. So old is the idea of a post-racial democracy that it served as one of the animating principles on July 4, 1865. In the words of Congressman Henry Winter Davis, “this government” rested “on the right of individual liberty and the right of every man to bear a share in the government whose laws he obeys and whose bayonet in the hour of danger he bears.” Historian Alexander W. Bradford, author of American Antiquities and researches into the Origins of the Red Race, argued that Americans on the national anniversary in 1865, stood “together as a band of brothers, with no stain of slavery on our escutcheon, with our garments unspotted and our vestments undimmed by any law of oppression or wrong.” William Lloyd Garrison in the pages of the Liberator maintained that “through suffering and triumph, through the sundering of all chains, and the liberation of all the oppressed, our country enters upon a career of prosperity and glory.” William Howard Day, concluded his oration with an ode to an American nation that “shine[s] on history’s page” a story which “the proud shall envy and the good shall cherish.” Similarly, James Lynch speaking in Augusta Georgia, urged “North and South, white and black” to “shake hands—join hearts—shout for joy—gird up their loins and with a patriotism as exalted as the national grandeur, a love of justice and mercy like that which is Divine, and a hope as high as the objects of promise, go on in the pursuit of further development.” The utopian vision of a nation cleansed from the sin of slavery and free of hate and prejudice animated many hearts on the eighty-ninth anniversary of Independence. Perhaps the nation needed such visions of egalitarian millennialism to steel itself for the work of Reconstruction. It may well be that the hope of Americans for a more perfect union and a nation which finally lived up to its professed ideals was the ideological payment for all the blood poured out on the battlefield.

Even so, the notion of progress and the ideal of liberty could not be divorced from its historical arguments. In giving voice to the narrative of slavery and emancipation on July 4, 1865, Americans created a framework for African American civil rights, a vision that maintained itself through the long years of reconstruction, persevered amidst the dark interlude of Southern ascendency and Jim Crow, to resurface again gloriously during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s—and the narrative is with the nation still. But the vision of emancipation was not strong enough to guarantee civil and political equality for all Americans. Nor was the story of emancipation any guarantee of lasting civil and political equality for black Americans. Arrayed against the chronicle of freedom from bondage stood other visions of the American nation. The fables of confederate defeat, and of immigration as expressed by the nation’s Irish population, held their own sacral understanding of what the nation ought to be. These nationalistic sagas remained rooted in visions of white supremacy. They created a vision of national history diametrically opposed to the emancipationist vision of the war, and channeled the national past to advance the interests of white immigrant labor and southern sectionalism. Moreover, these competing ideals of a usable past held their own constructions of manhood and military service. Ideals which did as much to shape the understanding of the nation as did the narrative of African American war-time service. It yet remained to be seen which vision of the past would hold the mastery. The prayers of all could not be answered, and it is to these constructions of the nation that the story now turns.

Liberty, Manhood, Language, and Citizenship on July 4, 1865.

The American nation seemed to many an accomplished fact on July 4, 1865. Andrew L. Stone, pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, declared: “The crucial test is past. The American Republic must be accepted as a fact and a power for the future of history.” The one-armed union general, Oliver Otis Howard, spoke at Gettysburg, and after quoting President Lincoln pronounced the civil war ended and the test complete. Local Judge and Massachusetts state senator James T. Robinson, speaking at the Baptist Church in North Adams Massachusetts, proclaimed “we have a country” and went on to deem it in gendered language the “mother and protector of us all.” On Hilton Head, South Carolina the chief carpenter, Robert Marshall, presented John Lindsay with a gold watch and chain on behalf of all the mechanics, carpenters and workingmen. In accepting, Lindsay, proffered his understanding of the events of the war: “Let us thank God, that the fearful crisis that brought us all to South Carolina is now numbered with the things of the past; that the blasting stain of slavery is wiped out, and the Union is once more triumphant.”Half a continent away in Fort Rice Dakota Territory, former confederate soldier and post newspaper editor, Captain E.G. Adams addressed the troops. Later he penned a poem declaring that “I’ve returned to the faith of my fathers the union/like a lost saint repentant restored to communion.” In Chicago, Congressman Henry Winter Davis, called to mind the twenty-third psalm saying that the nation “has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, harm has come nigh us, but it has not overthrown us.” These public utterances appeared to justify the belief of Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Charles May, that “Revolutions burn away the wrongs, the errors, and the sophistries of human governments and institutions.” The American nation had survived the dreadful “dies irae” and though heaven “marked the progress of mankind in blood,” it was progress still.

As befitted a nation believing its own fable of evolution and example, the word liberty, and the idea of freedom fell from many mouths. The quartermasters and carpenters of Hilton Head raised a toast in their own honor asking “where can you find a better class of men than the mud-sills of Hilton Head?”On the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., William Howard Day argued that “religious and civil liberty laid the foundations of this nation.”The Reverend Frederick T. Brown, pastor of Chicago’s Central Presbyterian Church, announced that “today, then, as on no previous Fourth of July, we are a free people.” Major General Oliver Otis Howard, speaking at Gettysburg, named American liberty “a plant [as] dear to us as the apple of the eye.” On Roanoke Island, Henry McNeal Turner, Chaplain of the First U.S.C.T., spoke of the music of American liberty, to which “every despotic nation under heaven” would yet dance. In Ottumwa, Kansas Susan B. Anthony proclaimed “freedom and free institutions the sure inheritance of Kansas and the nation.” An imprisoned Alexander Stephens asked his diary “where is the boasted liberty that makes the people of the United States the freest on earth?” Even the defeated Vice President of the Confederacy invoked a spiritual belief in American freedom as he questioned his own imprisonment and the meaning of southern defeat. Extending across sectional, racial, and gendered lines the idea of liberty seemed to unite all Americans within a national community founded on a common creed and speaking a communal language. Americans on July 4, 1865, appeared to hold an almost sacerdotal belief in their own freedom.

But the doctrine of exceptionalism held its own exceptions to the ideal of liberty. Newspapers in Chicago advocated the extermination of Indians on the western plains.Horace Greely argued in opposition to women’s suffrage that the rights of women stood “safe in the hands of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons.” The Daily Record of Raleigh, North Carolina claimed that the “Hessians that invade our soil to steal and plunder do not deserve any quarter” and that “they deserve hanging.”Massachusetts Congressman George Boutwell contended that “a confessed majority of the white people of the South, have shown themselves the enemies of this country,” and went on to argue for their disenfranchisement. At the same time many southern newspapers argued against African American suffrage asserting, in the words of the Daily Lynchburg Virginian, that “we hold that negroes as a class are not fit for suffrage.”Nor were such sentiments confined to the South. The Daily Ohio Statesman of Columbus maintained that “Jefferson and the patriots of 1776 only included the race who made the Declaration . . . white resident Americans” and that to embrace a doctrine of equal rights would require that suffrage be granted to “digger Indians, Africans, Esquimeaux, Slavonians, Asiatics, Tasmanicans, and all that class.” As these examples illustrate, the question of freedom stood contested often concealing an attitude of liberty for me but none for thee.

The demand for freedom on this national holiday could not be divorced from collective memory. History on this most public of days served a didactic purpose—political philosophies teaching by example. In the aftermath of Appomattox, the nation and its inhabitants turned visibly towards an examination of their past in order to plot their future and determine their place in the second republic. By creating these historical narratives, Americans took the ideal of liberty out of the ether, grounding it within specific communities that defined the possibilities of citizenship. The origin stories relayed on July 4, 1865 served as crucial checkpoints on the road to reconstructing a new republic on the ruins of the old.

So, William Howard Day melted away two hundred and forty years of history in a phrase, juxtaposing “the advent of a band of freemen landing upon Plymouth Rock” with the “coming of a company of slaves landed at Jamestown Virginia.” The Reverend James Lynch in Augusta Georgia argued that “the deliverance of the slave from bondage was the sine qua non of the deliverance of the nation from the consuming fires of rebellion.”Newspaper editor J.J. Stewart of Salisbury, North Carolina urged confederate veterans to “show the scar you received at Gettysburg, and the wound that stretched you bleeding at Manassas.” The Reverend, Andrew Stone told the citizens of Providence, Rhode Island of an ever expanding nation at war where “bow and arrow, scalping knife and tomahawk receded toward the setting sun.” Monsignor Joseph Harrington told San Francisco’s Irish that “to educate the children of Ireland was made a felony,” and gloried in the power of America “whose adopted citizens we are.” In each of these narratives history fulfilled a moral function. Further, these narratives of slavery and emancipation, southern defeat, westward expansion, and immigration held separate and often competing ideals of citizenship and natural rights within the reunited nation.

The moral use of history on July 4, 1865 fit the broader pattern of nineteenth century national creation. As noted by many scholars, nationalism arose at the tail-end of the eighteenth century as a type of secular civic religion centered on the state. Moreover, nationalist thinkers borrowed freely from the sacral language of religion. In Europe the religious language of nationalism often served the creation of states on an ethnic or a civic model. Adam Mickiewicz routinely referred to Poland as the Christ of nations. Jules Michelet argued that the French should teach their children “France as faith and as religion.”  Johann Fichte, speaking for German nationalists, maintained that the people and their nation stood as “a support and a guarantee of eternity on earth.” In short, the sacral language of nationalism acted as a crucial support to the creation of national consciousness.

Americans likewise employed religious language in creating their conceptions of the nation on July 4, 1865. James Lynch spoke of the “gospel” of the American republic. Unrepentant Confederates in Mexico wrote of the “heaven-born right of self-government,” and said of the national anniversary that “on these occasions the ground is sprinkled afresh with the blood of revolutionary martyrs.” Lieutenant Colonel Nathanial Smith, speaking at the Old North Church in Woodbury, Connecticut argued that “the declaration of independence was God’s work, through our Fathers as His instruments.”Professor Henry W. Adams, maintained that the “history of events is the judgment of God, from which it is manifest that he ordained this continent to be the theatre of free institutions and a refined civilization.” Likewise, William Howard Day, named the American nation “the golden tie binding us to the heart of God that we listen to and aid as we are able.” Clearly, the language of religious belief shaped the expectations for the American nation as it emerged from Civil War.

Unlike their European counterparts, however, Americans could not employ holy language to create an ancient, ethnic past focused on a people speaking a common language with shared customs and values. Nor despite certain claims to universality, was it possible for all Americans to fully embrace the language of civic nationalism, and a holy crusade of equal justice for all as the sacral language of the nation remained gendered in crucial ways. Charles W. Slack, assistant cashier of the Boston Custom’s house, elegized of the loyal women of America and spoke in glowing terms of their “unwearied efforts and influence . . . in camp, hospital, and at home.”Henry W. Adams, told of the “vast army of American women, with sympathies and blessings outspreading like the wings of angels over a vast continent, has done much to comfort and preserve the army and navy unto the final consummation of victory.” The Confederate Governor of Louisiana Henry Watkins Allen addressed the “ladies of Louisiana” that “you have clothed the soldiers, nursed the sick and wounded, cheered up the faint-hearted, and smoothed the dying pillow of the warrior patriot.” The Reverend Calvin Fairbanks argued for the loyalty of African American women, who “who have given the best blood of their families” in the pursuit of justice. But these tributes to American women, North and South black and white seldom extended to the full granting of citizenship rights in a participatory democracy. Like the old patriarchal religions, whose language the American nation adopted, the women of the country stood relegated to the role of help-meet in the course of defining the nation and its story.

The language of citizenship and of history from which it grew remained overwhelmingly male on July 4, 1865. Nineteenth-century writers, speakers and newspaper editors often conflated manhood and citizenship and the confusion grew along lines laid down by nationalist thinkers, who from the French Revolution forward had equated citizenship and male military service. In Europe equation of citizen with soldier solidified the construction of the state along ethnic lines. Jules Michelet spoke of the “sacred bayonets of France.” Johann Fichte argued that “those who are thus educated” would be “all equally willing to bear arms for their fatherland.”Likewise, Greek romantic nationalists proclaimed in their constitution that “all Greeks are soldiers,” further strengthening the bond between military service, manhood, and citizenship.

Americans in the aftermath of Civil War also created narratives of military service, manhood, and citizenship. The longtime abolitionist and once-jailed-dissenter, Reverend Calvin Fairbanks wrote in the Christian Recorder, that the black soldier “having rescued and saved the country,” could not “deny him the rights of a citizen” William Howard Day, spoke of the “colored soldiers of this war” led on “by the providence of God,” to whom “are we indebted. . . for our present position.” Similarly, Corporal George Thomas, born a slave in Kentucky and enlisted in federal service in 1864, wrote the Weekly Anglo African that “we feel like men, are determined to be men, and do our duty to our government.” Clearly, longtime abolitionists, freed slaves, and free African-Americans all believed in the over-arching story of military service and citizenship as a means for guaranteeing black civil rights.

Even so, the narrative of nationalism, manhood, and military service applied equally well to southerners on the eighty-ninth anniversary of Independence. White Southerners, long opposed to emancipation, and in the aftermath of war to any vision of black civil rights, used their heroism on the battlefield, heroism gained in opposition to Union arms and aims, as a means to press for their rights in a reunited republic. A. Alexander Little of Fredericksburg Virginia’s New Era, argued that “Mr. Davis and the other politicians were merely the representatives of a great community, which formerly believed it had the right to dissolve a political league and defend the South by force of Arms.” The Daily Union Banner, of Salisbury North Carolina, wrote of “our brave soldiers returning from the wars where they had so gallantly fought find no one to greet them with smiles. They are met with inverted faces and saddened glances.” As Bishop James O. Andrew of the M.E. Church South told his hearers “We have maintained a long and bloody struggle, and though forced to submit to overwhelming numbers, yet, we have lost no honor.” Here was the myth of the lost cause, of Southern valor and patriotism, created to give solace to a grieving section that gained a sense of self in its defeat.

On July 4, 1865 it was still yet impossible to grant to white southerners a measure of manhood and military service without denying the claims of African American soldiers on the reunited nation. Further, the story of military service, manhood and Union victory also stood opposed to the ideal of southern military valor. Oliver Otis Howard, at the laying of the corner-stone of the Gettysburg Monument in the national cemetery said of the American soldier that, “the true citizen heard that the traitors at Washington had formed a conspiracy to overthrow the government . . . and that our new President had called for help. ”In Howard’s retelling of the early days of Civil War, the true citizen “answered the call” and “sprang forth a soldier.” Likewise, Governor Reuben Fenton during the presentation of the regimental colors of New York’s volunteer regimens called “the citizen soldier of the army of the Republic” the “grandest embodiment of intelligence, patriotism and bravery the world has yet developed.” Moreover, the governor went on to proclaim that by the soldier “the great experiment of self-government has been settled for all people, in all countries beneath the sun.” In short, the valor and patriotism of northern white soldiers stood in this narrative construction as the bulwark of liberty to the newly reunited nation.

The examples of black union veterans, former confederates, and northern soldiers did not stand alone. Irish Immigrants also commemorated their manhood valor and patriotism on the Fourth of July. B.F. Washington, the editor of San Francisco’s Daily Examiner, made the case that American Civil War veterans would liberate Ireland for “every parish has its drill master,” and “two hundred thousand Irishmen in America are skilled in arms.” The Fenian Society of Carson City, Nevada held a meeting on Sunday July 2, 1865 to promote the cause of Irish independence. And, these “wariors” believing in their own story of manly valor, allied their “struggles for liberty upon their native soil” with their military service in the United States, even while they maligned black veterans as “hogs or dogs” returning “to their vomit.”

In sum, the European nationalist ideal where military service guaranteed a modicum of citizenship rights proved an apple of discord in the United States on the national anniversary following Appomattox. One could not become an American, in 1865, by right of spilled blood any more than one could claim a common American identity based on language, religion, or ancient ancestry. Not only did these competing narratives of manhood and military service divide the country’s inhabitants equally as much as the Civil War provided a common reference-point, but war-time service offered no surety of citizenship. As proof of the inadequacies of military service, Ely Parker, a member of the Iriquois Nation, had sat with Grant and Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, and yet the American nation denied even him citizenship until 1869.

If American citizenship was to become a reality on July 4,1865 it would have to be reconstructed at the intersection of sacral language, manhood, military service, and historical narration. If the vaunted ideal of liberty, so revered in parlance and so reviled in practice, was to hold any real meaning it could only be constructed through the building of usable origin stories to define the political possibilities of the new nation.  The narratives of slavery and emancipation, the Lost Cause, immigration, and westward expansion fit the criteria. First each vision of history held its own sacral language. Second, each carried its own unique vision of war, of manhood, valor, bloodshed, and service in a righteous cause. Third, each historical ideal could be interpreted in terms of all the others, thus providing a self-enclosed circular logic of what the American nation ought to be.  These stories gave concrete meaning to the abstract conceptions of liberty mentioned by many and maintained by none.


July 4, 1865: An Anatomy of American Nationalism

The traditions, rituals, and stories of July 4, 1865 bound the disparate experiences of Americans to a common nation-state. Bereaved by death, bereft of those they loved, weary of revolution, and tired of violence, they ruminated over the course of the war and sought to define both the nation and their place in the emergent order. Out of a common toolkit and a shared past, Americans fashioned the narratives that gave meaning and purpose to their lives and which they would pass on to their children. Yet far from uniting the nation, the conclusion of the Civil War and its commemoration on the Fourth of July illustrated how the nation, united in theory, was still divided in fact and sentiment.  The recent sufferings and triumphs of millions shaped the memory of events and influenced the course of politics for a hundred years as first one then another of these stories gained ascendency. The only things Americans held in common on July 4, 1865 were their anniversary, their nation and their past. Together they used the day to reshape the past and refashion the nation according to their understanding of its history. No agreement could be reached. The great dream of a United States broke, repeatedly, on the separate experiences of its inhabitants, and their collective desire to give meaning to irreconcilable visions of a common past.

The anniversary of Independence served as a shared reference for Americans in the aftermath of civil war. Iowa Judge and future Republican Congressman, William Loughridge commemorated the day in glowing terms: “Eighty nine years ago to-day, our fathers severed the bonds that bound them to the throne of England, and declared to the world those great principles of liberty and equality.”[1] The editors of the Daily North Carolina Advertiser recounted how “at this point in time the Fourth of July had a peculiar value, not only in our eyes, but in the eyes of the entire people of the South who for the last four years have, in part, given up their heritage in the glorious legacy.”[2] A.E. Marshall of the Macon Daily Telegraph, in Georgia proclaimed that “the memory of the illustrious men and deeds of those times, over which nearly a century has rolled its waves, receives a new revival in our hearts.”[3] B.F. Washington the editor of the pro-Irish, Democratic Daily Examiner in San Francisco looked to the fourth of July and urged his readers: “Let us not, upon this day, dedicated to freedom, forget that we have liberties to preserve as well as to celebrate.”[4] The Reverend James Lynch, speaking at the celebration in Augusta, Georgia, saw the anniversary as “beginning a new epoch in the world’s history; promising to mankind an estate that the combined wisdom of a hundred centuries had sought and not obtained.”[5]  Likewise, William Howard Day announced that the African Americans at the Capitol, “met to-day inspired by the noble sentiments they had heard enunciated in the glorious declaration of Independence.”[6] In California, people gathered around the steps of the San Buenaventura mission to hear the Declaration of Independence read in Spanish.[7] Finally, out in Ottumwa Kansas, Susan B. Anthony related that “I came here today on this eighty ninth anniversary of our national Independence, that I might look into the honest earnest faces of the men and women, who, ten years ago, taught the nation anew that ‘resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.’”[8] To a degree unknown in other nations founded on more traditional ideals of nationalism, Americans of all persuasions claimed the Fourth of July as their own. They looked back across almost ninety years and read into the events of 1776, the principles that spoke to them in their current circumstances. The urge to grasp the anniversary knew no divisions of language and in many instances it cut across sectional lines. White southerners, Irish immigrants, former slaves, free blacks, Republicans, copperhead democrats, and feminists, all these and more, sought some kind of meaning in the national anniversary. Continue reading

July 4, 1865: The Narrative Scene

[Author’s note: So, I’m in the process of setting up the scene within which the action happens for my master’s thesis. Below is an impressionistic picture of the United States on July 4, 1865. I’m interested in your comments, how well does it work and what could be better? With that I’m opening the floor to everyone who wants to comment. Please, feel free and keep it respectful, best Sorn.

P.S. I apologize for the lack of footnotes, I have them, but they refuse to transfer to wordpress.]

The Narrative Scene:

      The national picture on July 4, 1865 looked strong and vibrant. The great fratricidal war had been over for three months, and the statistics for the fiscal year, ended just five days before, appeared to illustrate a strong, prosperous nation. The federal government had just spent the first billion dollars ever in the nation’s history, using that money to bring the war to a successful conclusion. The nation’s mines had produced nearly sixty four and a half million dollars in gold and silver; its seaports had received nearly four million tons of freight; and its citizens consumed eighty four million pounds of coffee. Petroleum, “one of the greatest benefits ever bestowed by divine providence,” had been discovered in almost every loyal state, and new discoveries emerged daily. The associated banks of New York held one hundred eighty seven millions in currency on deposit; Philadelphia’s banks thirty nine millions; and through all the national banks there circulated one hundred forty three millions of dollars—vital lifeblood to the arteries of commerce.
As these statistics illustrated, the United States stood firmly entrenched in the global economy. The telegraph brought news from all corners of the globe. Financial speculators in New York eagerly tracked the budget of the French government. Newspapers informed their readers of toll rates in Spanish ports, of economic developments in Calcutta, and of investments in Algeria paying five and a quarter percent per annum. The price of five-twenty and seven-thirty bonds in London affected the domestic price of gold. Anticipation of the monthly interest payments on gold-bearing bonds sold overseas caused fluctuations in the future’s market and affected the price of commodities. Approximately, five and a half thousand immigrants arrived in New York each week, and these exiles reputedly sought “the benefits which the New World holds aloft as tempting prizes to the industrious.” Indeed, fortune seemed to smile on the newly reunited republic, leading the editors of Harper’s Weekly, to proclaim, “we have a right to rejoice as never before.” Celebration appeared justified, and the promise of the newly reunited American nation looked on the verge of fulfillment.
In Boston bells rang morning, noon, and night in honor of the nation’s birthday while flags and hangings draped the city’s major streets. A huge banner hung across Merchants Row, carrying the words of Lincoln: “I leave you, hoping that the lamps of Liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.” On Beacon Street Mall, flags, buntings, and twenty tables extended for three hundred and fifty feet to feast returning veterans. A morning concert played the national airs at seven o’clock, and at Faneuil Hall, the names of Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, David Farragut, and Robert Anderson, draped the panels of the galleries.
In Augusta Georgia, four thousand former slaves formed a procession leading to the parade ground headed by a banner proclaiming Abraham Lincoln “the father of our liberties and the savior of his country.” Out west in Nevada, the editors of the Carson Daily Appeal suffered hangovers the next day after attending a party where everyone refused to “go home until morning.” In Baltimore, the national flag draped nearly all public buildings, newspaper offices, and private homes. At sunrise in Fredericksburg, Virginia thirty-six guns—one for every state of the union—paid tribute to the nation’s natal day.

It seemed that the Fourth of July in 1865 once again stood as the nation’s pre-eminent holiday. Recalcitrant confederates in Matamoras, Mexico argued that “the twenty fifth day of December is no more sacred to Christians than is the Fourth of July to Americans.” In Virginia the editors of the Richmond Whig, burst into tears on hearing The Star-Spangled Banner, declaring that “we hadn’t heard the old tune for such a long time that we couldn’t help it.” In Boston Governor John Andrews proclaimed the anniversary, “the Sabbath day of freedom.” Likewise, from his prison cell, on Georges Island, former Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens heard the bells of Boston tolling in the distance and wrote in his diary of “the ever memorable independence day, an anniversary which should be hailed with profoundest emotions of gratitude and patriotism by every friend of constitutional liberty and representative government the world over.” In short, the public and private thoughts of Americans appeared to lend an aura of authority to the picture of a reunited nation, peaceful and prosperous after four years of bloody civil war.
But the appearance of unity was only a receding mirage. The sculpted image of a singular nation showed a web of cracks when viewed closely for any length of time. Three quarters of a million souls had died in the past four years of total war, and the memories of the dead mingled with the hopes of the living. In the South, young white women of formerly prosperous families spent all day behind mules planting corn, or hauled water from the well to clean their own houses, while their former slaves went to barbeques, sang spirituals, heard speeches, and danced until midnight. In San Francisco many Irish boycotted the city’s Fourth of July celebration refusing to congregate with “dammed naygurs,” and, instead, commemorated the life of St. Patrick in a separate part of the city. On the grounds of the Capitol in Washington D.C., longtime black activist William Howard Day addressed the fifteen hundred children of the Sunday School Union, and thousands of others. In the words of the Christian Recorder’s Washington Correspondent: “it was the first Fourth of July of the colored people,” as full participants on the national stage. Yet even as Day spoke, far away in Kentucky, A.J. Beale, a local slave-owner, sold one African American woman for another of identical price and certified her good health.
The American nation on July 4, 1865 was caught between two distinct moments in its history. The old world of a slave-holder’s republic was dying, but slavery was not yet dead. The Civil War was over, but the much promised new birth of freedom was still in process. Everywhere men and women groped for meaning and direction seeking ends with which to make new beginnings. And so, they gathered up their past, ordered their experiences, and collectively sought to define the nation in the midst of their unfinished revolution.

The Voices of the Dead

Everywhere I go, when I stop to think on it, I am haunted by the voices of the dead. Dead friends, dead classmates, dead people seem to take up a great deal of my time when I reflect back on my early life. A high-school classmate, dead before he graduated, killed in a car accident, a student of my father’s also killed in a wreck, my brother’s best friend–stabbed two days before he was supposed to graduate, a kid who used to beat the daylights out of me in grade school killed by his own hand. Others too come to mind. The son of the best speaker I know, who sang the songs that revolve around in my head, a victim of inadequate health care at IHS.
All of these deaths happened before I was twenty-three–casualties of a system that cuts people off from the broad spectrum of opportunity that is supposed to exist in a first-world country.

And the people mentioned above are only the first to come to mind. There are others, so many others, that to call a roll of people I grew up with amounts to chanting a dirge. It’s an all too common story. The average reservation preacher performs more funerals in a year than ordinary communities see in five or more. The churches back home are filled with ministers who could tell you stories of preaching two, three, sometimes four funerals in a single week. None of this should surprise anyone deeply familiar with the history of indigenous life in the twentieth century. The life expectancy in Northern Cheyenne country is only 57 years old. In other reservations it isn’t much better:

American Indians are 600% more likely to die from heart disease than other Americans, 226% more likely to die from diabetes, and 600% more likely to die from tuberculosis.

The broader world doesn’t seem to care. Without question, these evils are the product of a federally created system of apartheid, begun in the 19th century and carried forward today. Yet, well-meaning progressive friends of mine have told me repeatedly that I am playing oppression olympics. Some of them believe that I am being disrespectful when I mention this, but the statistics in Northern Cheyenne country speak for themselves:

$4970 is the average per capita income per year on the reservation. $2814 is your total assistance if you get welfare and food stamps – and that’s it for the whole year. $10,000 is about the income two parent families may achieve if they are able to get seasonal work on the summer. $28,500 is the average US per capita household income $14,417 is the average median household income per reservation family $40,800 is the average US median household income. 11.3% is the national rate of people estimated to be living below the poverty line. 22% is the number of Cheyennes who have work but remain beneath the national poverty threshold of $9214. 78% is the Northern Cheyenne Reservation’s unemployment figure. 87% is the total of people on the reservation who live beneath the poverty line.

I am so tired of being ignored, of having people overlook these statistics, of being told to be quiet. The approximately 5,000 people who live there, in Eastern Montana, deserve justice. They deserve not to be overlooked, and they deserve to be heard. But, it seems that Americans have no concept of life on the reservation. They prefer their reservations to be places with casinos and cheap cigarettes. They do not want to hear that they have created Soweto on the prairies. The legacies of institutionalized white supremacy are real. The realities of American Apartheid are also very real. Yet, people do not think of reservations as part of the same system of white supremacy that created Jim Crow. The same nation responsible for red-lining, for police brutality, and mass incarceration is the same nation that created this place on the plains, where people die in droves every single year.

Whatever their reasons for ignoring the pressing problems of life in a rural ghetto, one thing is clear. Most Americans cannot hear the dead. The same dead whose blood sometimes seems to cry out from the ground. There isn’t a single person who grew up on the res who hasn’t lost friends or family members in similar ways to those described in the introduction. All of us from these communities have a list of people we know who died too early. People, who if they had been born elsewhere would still be alive. Victims of a system that denied them the opportunity to live because of where they were born.

Mark Charles Diné Man Extraordinaire

I just found a new blog. If you haven’t started reading Mark Charles over at Reflections from the Hogan you need to start. He seems like a wonderful man, but more than any of these qualities here is a man who believes it necessary to take a stand. At 11 A.M. on December 19, 2012 he read the national apology  which congress had burried in a defense appropriation in 2010.

At Mr. Charles’ reading of the buried apology no one showed up. Further:

Every invitation I had delivered, to President Obama, Governor Brownback, many members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives; every one them had either been ignored or declined. No one was willing to step forward and publicly acknowledge and read the apology which they had buried in H.R. 3326.

This, ultimately, is how it feels to grow up in a community separated by time and space from the rest of the United States. In the article linked above, Mr. Charles speaks about moving to Diné country, and living in a situation where there was effectively, “no running water or electricity. Charles lived by candlelight and hauled his water.” He also speaks movingly about the loneliness and isolation of living in a western, rural reservation: “”The hardest part was how incredibly lonely and disconnected you feel from the rest of the country.” I wish more people understood these feelings of isolation, the extreme pain, and the difficulty that comes with merely trying to survive on reservations throughout the country. But, it seems that no one cares. Always when it comes to living way out beyond the-back-of-beyond, people seem to minimize, trivialize, or otherwise disavow the experiences individuals have to go through to merely survive.

If he met me on the street Mr. Charles probably wouldn’t know me from your ordinary, everyday belagana but everything he says brings up reminders of an earlier life. In 1993, when I was nine years old, my parents moved to Busby, Montana, where they reside today. I completed fourth and fifth grade there. It was in that place that I, this veho, this tricky spider, to use the Northern Cheyenne word, first learned the story of the Fort Robinson Breakout. In the midst of subzero temperatures, Little Wolf, Dull Knife and the entire Northern Cheyenne people left Nebraska and walked back to Montana. To this day, few people outside the reservation are even aware that this event happened. To most Americans, if they know of the Northern Cheyenne at all they mostly remember their participation in the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Americans would rather forget, this act of nationalistic defiance in the face of both the U.S. Government and the weather. “Tell the people we are going home,” Dull Knife was reported to say. And they went home, step by arduous step, fighting everyone the long way back.

No Northern Cheyenne comes to maturity without knowledge of this story bred in the bones. Every year, the event is commemorated in a 76 mile run around the reservation. In school children memorialize it, hear it from their relatives, and write essays about it. In many ways, the Fort Robinson Breakout is the Cheyenne origin story of modern times. But what is this place, this home marched to over so many hard miles with blistered feet carrying wounded friends?

In 1993, when my parents moved to Busby, the water was undrinkable. It smelled of sulphur, it turned toilets and sinks an ugly brown color from the iron. If you lived in Busby in the 1990s, in the age of dial-up modems, of cell phones and Nintendo, you had to carry your water every week. And, the water had to come from far away. At a minimum the water came from Lame Deer or Crow Agency, twenty miles away. A lot of folks would do what my parents did, and drive to Hardin, forty miles, because the grocery store in Hardin was cheaper than the one in Lame Deer. Every week, you had to buy water for the next week, if you wanted to cook, if you wanted to drink, if you wanted to live you had to buy water: six, eight, usually twelve gallons in re-usable plastic milk jugs. Each with a blue or red plastic top. So, every single week after church in Crow Agency, my parents bought water in Hardin along with their groceries, and hauled it home over bad roads rutted by heavy tractor trailers, to a hamlet of houses in eastern Montana.

Yet, for all of that, for so many people who I know, Busby was, and is, home. By God, the folks that lived there had fought everyone to keep it, and by God, they were going to stay. Yet, it was not, by any means an easy existence. The water system was finally fixed in 2003 That year would find me in Kuwait, once again drinking bottled water, for different reasons.

Ultimately, the story of Busby’s water system serves as an allegory of the government’s relationship to Indigenous Peoples. The infrastructure and employment problems on the nation’s Indian reservations have all been well-documented and everyone seems to know all about them. But, the government takes decades, and sometimes even longer, to address the problem, which in turn forces the young, the talented, and the economically viable to leave home in search of work.

In much the same way that South Africa’s maligned homelands acted to force Zulu and Xhosa people into the cities, the reservation system creates its own logic of large apartheid, where the productive move to the cities in search of work to feed a segregated system of American capitalism. But Americans don’t want to hear this story. They would rather bury it in a defense appropriations bill. They prefer a vanished nineteenth century Indian, to a real live member of a tribal nation, so that way Americans can all, somehow, claim descent from a fictitious Cherokee grandmother.

Mark Charles, a living member of the Diné nation, shows the strength, the endurance, and the long memories that inhabit First Nation’s Peoples are indomitable. He went to Washington D.C., and forcefully read an apology that should have been shouted from the rooftops instead of mumbled in the hall. I’m two years too late in acknowledging this, but for everything you’ve done and continue to do, from the bottom of my heart, I want to say “Thank You Mr. Charles.” Ha-Ho, as they say in Northern Cheyenne country. Thank you. Maybe some day the white folks of this American nation, maybe some day they will listen long enough to hear what indigenous people try so hard to tell them. If not, perhaps, they will hear with punctured eardrums in the afterlife.

The Anthem of the Master’s Thesis

I’m finishing up the fifth draft of the Master’s Thesis proposal as I write this. You can see the project’s anthem above, with thanks to Chris Parrish, aka Supaman. I’ve come too far to go back now. It’s a long way for this guy to a master’s degree at the University of Montana. I hope my teachers and mentors all of them, would be proud of me. The writing will start in earnest, tomorrow.

To all my teachers, family, and friends, who provided the models that I hope to emulate, a’ho. I know of few writers where I come from, I can only do the best that I am able.