Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Varieties of Abolitionism

In the long history of the abolitionist movement in the United States, which started long before 1775 and separately from the movement toward political independence from England, we see significantly different subgroups within the larger movement. One clear distinction was between the abolitionists in the free North and those in the slaveholding South. Although the two groups admired and supported each other, they operated in very different circumstances.

Even among abolitionists in the South, there was a "broad spectrum of antislavery opinion," according to historian Stanley Harrold. A long list of local abolitionist organizations and societies dotted the map, and various leaders gained public attention for the cause in the South.

Most prominent among them were James G. Birney, Cassius M. Clay, Joseph Evans Snodgrass, John C. Vaughn, John G. Fee, and William S. Bailey.

Some abolitionists worked for the immediate end of all slavery, others took a longer view, supposing that it might take years or decades. Some advocated civil or peaceful means, others were willing to use force or violence.

Of the six individuals whose activities in the slave states drew extended comment from northern abolitionists, three - James G. Birney, Cassius M. Clay, and John G. Fee - are relatively well-known figures. All three were prominent for their activities in Kentucky, and Birney had also been active against slavery in Alabama. Although Birney, was born in 1792, was considerably older than Clay, who was born in 1810, and Fee, who was born in 1816, they had much in common. All three came from slaveholding families, and Birney and Clay had inherited large numbers of slaves. All were educated in the North - Birney at Princeton, Clay at Yale, and Fee at Miami University and the Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio. Each of them based his opposition to slavery on Christian precepts, although Fee's religious commitment was the strongest and Clay's has been obscured by his biographer. Birney and Clay were aristocratic, and they both began their careers as slave-holders who criticized slavery in their state legislatures.

In addition to being united by their antislavery sentiments, abolitionists in the South shared two foundations for these sentiments: first, the generally Christian outlook, and second, a strong sense of the nation's founding documents. To be sure, there was a diversity among them: Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.; but they shared enough of the common Christian belief to be firm in their opposition to slavery. Politically, they saw abolitionism rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution - including the Bill of Rights. Those texts contained the seeds of the abolitionist movement, and the years from 1776 to 1863 were in some ways merely an unfolding of what had been put into place by 1775.

Evangelical and political abolitionists of diverse backgrounds began to demand a revival of a religious campaign to directly impact the South.

The abolitionists believed that as people in the South were encouraged to consider authentic Christianity - as opposed to the very unChristian ideology of the slaveholding groups, an ideology which loudly proclaimed itself to be Christian but which was in fact not - they would embrace abolitionism.

Cassius M. Clay, calling on every Christian "to bear testimony against this crime against man and God," also suggested the creation of an abolitionist missionary organization for the South. He wanted an interdenominational board of home missions established in New York City to coordinate the project.

Abolitionists in the North would fund and support the activities of the abolitionists in the South. Clay, himself a Kentuckian, understood the dangers of sending speakers from the North into the South, and so looked to the North to support, but not to operate, the movement in the South. Joshua Leavitt and Charles Torrey, two other famous abolitionist leaders, endorsed a more aggressive version of Clay's idea, encouraging speakers to address the problem of slavery most directly.

Clay did well in envisioning the organizational form of the missionary undertaking in the South. When it emerged in the late 1840s as an important facet of abolitionism, the effort was, nevertheless, closer to the hearts of Torrey and Leavitt than to the Kentuckian's. At that time, the American Wesleyan Connection, the AMA, and the American Baptist Free Missionary Society (ABFMS) each initiated measure to spread antislavery religion in the South.

In those years of antebellum history, of course, AMA stood not for the American Medical Association, but rather for the American Missionary Association, one of the chief abolitionist groups.

Organized abolitionist missions in the South, begun in the 1840s, constituted a more aggressive and enduring effort than the mailing of antislavery publications to prominent southerners during the great postal campaign of 1834-35.

Although the effort to abolish slavery by awakening more southerners to the true meaning of Christianity reached its peak in the late 1840s and 1850s, it did not begin at that time. There

was a long tradition of religiously inspired and northern-supported antislavery action in the South. In 1835, Amos Dresser, former Lane Theological Seminary student and disciple of Theodore Weld, distributed antislavery "tracts and periodicals" in Kentucky and Tennessee. He also talked openly with slaves before a Nashville mob beat him severely for his efforts.

The pattern was common: a southern abolitionist spokesman, funded and supported in part from the North, whose message was a blend of New Testament Christianity and the Founding Fathers. The resistance to such spokesmen was also usually the same: based on economics, but cloaking itself in alleged fears of rampant crime by freed slaves, and hiding its anti-Christian hatred behind the verbiage of an insincere pseudo-Christianity.

Abolitionist missionary efforts of another Weld protege, David Nelson, became the focus of confrontation between religiously oriented abolitionism and slavery in Missouri. A southerner, a Presbyterian minister, and a former slaveholder who had freed his slaves, Nelson was president of Marion College in eastern Missouri when Weld converted him to immediatism in 1835. As an agent of the AASS, Nelson contacted slaves, called on slaveholders in his congregations to free their bondspeople, and attempted to attract young northern abolitionists to his college. Driven out of Missouri by mob threats, he established the Missionary Institute in Quincy, Illinois, that produced Work, Burr, and Thompson's slave rescue attempt in 1841.

The AASS was the American Anti-Slavery Society. Oberlin College in Ohio, filled at the time with Presbyterian spirituality, was another major institution among abolitionists. The word 'imediatism' refers to the idea, common among many abolitionists, that the time for waiting was over, no gradualism should be tolerated, and slavery had to be ended immediately.

Although, to the casual observer, the situation presented possible confusion - both abolitionists and slaveholders claiming to be Christians - there is no great mystery. Upon closer inspection, the southerners who defended slavery and called themselves Christians were nominal believers at best, and cynically manipulating their listeners at worst. The abolitionists from the North who often endured beatings by southern mobs displayed, by means of their wounds, the sincerity of their belief. The slaves themselves could easily tell which side manifested true Christian charity.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pershing Conducts the War

General John “Blackjack” Pershing played a pivotal role in World War One; of this there can be no doubt. Among the many obstacles he faced, the enemy’s soldiers were merely one: he had to deal with a political machinery which, until mere months prior to America’s entry into the conflict, continued to announce its goal of staying out of the war; he had to deal with that same administration when, once it decided to enter the war, was ambivalent about whether it would support the English or the Germans; he had to deal with unwieldy relations with British and French allies, and several other nations as well; he had to deal with a new form of mechanized and industrialized warfare which was not yet fully understood; he had to deal with perpetual shortages of men and material. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, Pershing’s skill and accomplishments have earned ceaseless praise from scholars, including historian Timothy Nenninger, for almost a full century.

Woodrow Wilson’s wartime leadership was either nonexistent or useless. Wilson had famously opposed placing the United States into the war; he changed his mind on the topic because of domestic implications. He discovered that placing the nation on a wartime footing created the urgency – or sense of crisis – which he needed to further his domestic goals: increasing taxes, micromanaging the economy, and regulating various areas of private life. Wilson found that he now favored America’s involvement in the war, but had no strong preference as to which side the United States would support: England or Germany. There were strong reasons for Wilson to consider supporting Germany; a small clique of German scholars had shaped Wilson’s mind. Historian Jonah Goldberg writes:

few figures represent the foreign, particularly German influence on Progressivism better than Wilson himself. Wilson’s faith that society could be bent to the will of social planners was formed at Johns Hopkins, the first American university to be founded on the German model. Virtually all of Wilson’s professors had studied in Germany – as had almost every one of the school’s fifty-three faculty members.

Although Wilson dropped his isolationism and pacifism like a hot potato and eagerly threw America into the war, he offered no leadership or insight – or even interest – in the execution of that war. Pershing deserves full blame or full credit for America’s conduct of the war.

Nenninger’s analysis of the American Expeditionary Force’s mode of command centers in part on Pershing, and rightfully so. But Pershing’s career lasted well past the November 1918 armistice which ended WWI. As Chief of Staff of the Army until September 1924, he was able to codify the AEF’s collective experience in the 1923 edition of the Field Service Regulations and in the re-designation of Leavenworth as the “Command and General Staff School.” Nenninger tells us what, exactly, “the lessons learned” in WWI were.

Pershing’s qualifications to be Commander in Chief of the AEF included his experience, “political connections and political awareness, energy, organizational vision, and character.” He could learned from experience and from mistakes. Nenninger praises Pershing as excellent for the post, arguing that while Pershing was not perfect, there were none better suited.

“The lessons learned” dealt mainly with command and control. In contrast to the AEF, the British armies on the European continent during WWI operated rather independently of each other. The “successful” – Nenninger’s word – AEF commanders “sought centralized, tightly controlled operations” and “considered mission accomplishment paramount.” Nenninger doesn’t tell us what the British commanders “considered paramount.”

The AEF was involved in combat for a rather brief period of time. The United States declared war on 7 April 1917, but large scale entry into combat didn’t take place until June 1918, and the war ended in November of that year. Despite the brevity, “there were nearly two million” U.S. military men in Europe by the end of the war, and some of them had seen substantial combat action, and the AEF’s leadership had gained significant experience. Returning to the theme of “lessons learned,” the AEF encountered factors “beyond the control of American military authorities.”

(It seems to be one of the truisms of military operations that once a battle begins – once the famed “fog of war” sets in – that commanders are inundated by factors beyond their control, and by unexpected events. Despite careful planning, it is wise response to unexpected and uncontrollable events that leads to military success.)

Nenninger identifies three factors which made WWI different from previous conflicts – and therefore constituted challenges for officers who had never encountered these factors before: first, the large scale; second, the role as one nation in a coalition; third, “a three-thousand mile supply line.” The style of command was also different: there was “a War Department General Staff, with organized general staffs in tactical units in the field, and with some officers explicitly trained for the highest command and staff duties.” This command style also made WWI a new setting for U.S. military forces.

Detailed and developed military doctrines had been formulated and taught to officers to a far higher degree than, e.g., at the time of the U.S. Civil War. Organizational structure had been thought out and rehearsed, as well, to greater extent than in previous decades. Finally, technology offered new opportunities for communication and coordination – the value of communication between related military units at the front can hardly be overstated. Yet all of these factors were hindered and disrupted – by the rapid tempo at which massive casualties were inflicted by mechanized warfare, which the U.S. was encountering for the first time. Among the officers, there were in fact different approaches – different ways of doing business – in regard to organization and doctrine: these differences arising in part from the fact that the officers had been trained in different facilities. Some had been trained at the Leavenworth Staff College; some had been trained at the Army War College; some graduated from West Point; still other sources of training were available; diverse sources of training led to conflicting views on command and control. Field telephones and field telegraphs, a relatively new innovation and part of mechanized warfare, integrated units vertically, i.e., field units to their commanding units behind the lines, but not horizontally – neighboring field units to the right and left often had very poor communication. Such electronic communication was also subject to frequent malfunction. “The crucial lesson from the AEF experience was that with organization and doctrine unsettled, technical means unwieldy and not well utilized, personalities became crucial.”

Nenninger’s analysis concerning personalities meshes well with common sense. If a group of officers is supposed to work together in the deafening and chaotic environment of modern mechanized warfare and the PTSD-inducing trauma of casualties on a scale so massive that they are barely comprehendible, despite the fact that they have been given different, or even conflicting, notions about organization and doctrine, personalities will be critical. Will these guys be able to figure out how to work together?

The AEF tried various tactics to overcome some of the obstacles it faced in terms of command and control; one of them was the institution of liaison officers. This was a good move – in Nenninger’s opinion and in fact – but didn’t produce the desired results because the post was not properly understood or regarded by commanders. In order to represent his unit to other units, and communicate in both directions with them, a liaison officer would need to “in the loop” – at least present present at crucial decisive meetings – within his own unit; many liaison officers weren’t. A liaison officers would need to cause information to flow in two directions, but many commanders saw them as only gathering information about the other units, but not providing information to the other units. Finally, an effective liaison officer would need the skills and personality for the task – but many commanders assigned men to that post without regard for their talents or qualifications.

Given both the poor communications and the lack of map-reading skills, AEF units often didn’t know where they were, where or who the units to their right and left were, and knew where the enemy was only because they were engaged with him.

One particular organizational conflict arose between the commanding officers and the staff officers. General staff officers and chiefs of staff formed the team working for the commanders. The extent to which staff officers were to act on their own, but in the name of their commander, and the extent to which the commander delegated authority to them, was not consistent. In particular, the graduates of the Leavenworth Staff College had been instructed to make decisions and issue orders on their own initiative and sometimes without specific approval from their commanders. This was not always acceptable to the commanders.

An additional complexity was introduced by the fact that the Field Service Regulations and the Staff Manual – both texts published for officers – contained different organizational structures for the general staff. Pershing, alerted by English and French allies to the insufficiency of traditional staffing in the face of modern mechanized large-scale warfare, created a third organizational staffing model which he implemented for the AEF. Pershing’s model seems good, but required officers to first unlearn the other two models, and then required time for them to grow accustomed to Pershing’s structure. But time was short; one can argue that, by war’s end, the officers were still growing into a new structure and had not yet fully habituated to it. Like all models, Pershing’s had its ambiguities, which needed time to clarify, and it depended not only on abstract organizational charts, but also on the specific individual personalities which would occupy the spaces in that chart. Pershing’s model proved, after some growing pains, to be effective, and to be growing in effectiveness over time.

Because of the large scale, a doctrine of command was necessary. Such a notion was new for the U.S. military – Nenninger notes that the word ‘doctrine’ was not actually used until later. A key question to be answered by the doctrine of command was this: to which extent, if any, do the chief of staff and the general staff officers receive delegated authority from their commander enabling them to issue orders on their own? The problematic relationship between commanders and their staff officers was never fully clarified during the war. Individuals in some cases managed to carve out successful working relationships, but as a formalized doctrine, no clear arrangement was finally formulated and codified.

The commanders, who were over the staff officers, were largely hand-picked by Pershing. He was concerned to choose commanders who were physically fit and not too old, because of the demands of command duty – lack of sleep, high stress, etc.

Looking at Pershing himself, Nenninger notes both scholars who praise Pershing and those who disparage him. As Commander-in-Chief of the AEF, he kept his “subordinate commanders on a” short leash, but delegated considerable decision-making authority to his staff. He made frequent visits to the front, and encouraged others to do so, so that he could be familiar with troop morale, conditions, and “the state of mind of his commanders.” Pershing was more familiar with, and more involved in, operation than his French and British counterparts. Similar to his allies, however, he “lacked complete understanding of tactical conditions on the Western front, but that hardly set him apart from his contemporaries in other armies.”

In sum, Pershing and the AEF command structure suffered from conflicts arising from ambiguities in structure and from divergent organizational visions arising from different educations, but managed to be effective because it was in the process of improving itself, and because of Pershing’s leadership abilities.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Unpopular But Necessary: Involuntary Military Service

The word "draft" is, in American history, most commonly linked to the Vietnam War. Yet there are quite a few instances of involuntary military service in our nation's history. This practice is never without controversy and resistance; yet it seems also to be necessary in certain circumstances. It is perhaps the elected leader's worst nightmare.

In the very beginning of our nation, the draft was present. Forced military service began, at the latest, in early 1776. By 1778, it was "widespread" according historian John Maass.

Maass writes that conscription and impressment “produced antipathy and resistance to Patriot authorities, and undermined support for” the government. This may remind the reader of the draft’s effects during the Vietnam conflict. Maass defines ‘impressment’ as “the act of seizing property for public service or use,” although elsewhere it has been used to refer to something very similar to the draft or to conscription, i.e., to “compulsory military service,” as Maass defines ‘conscription.’ There may be some slight confusion about terminology here.

It is worth noting that twenty-first century nations, rather than the direct “impressment” of needed wartime supplies, prefer to tax citizens, and then buy the supplies. The net effect is the same, but perhaps citizens are less disturbed by taxes than by officials actually seizing property and goods. Maass points out that “the desperate situation” there “made the enforcement of taxation laws difficult.” Whether they were collecting taxes or goods, the primitive information technology and the difficulty of maintaining any long-distance communication would have created the “confusion that reigned within the state as authorities scrambled to procure the various needs of the army and the militia,” although both confusion and unscrupulous use of such authority are quite possible in our high-tech era as well.

The leaders of the U.S. military were aware of the problems, and “feared alienating the populace, and making the people reluctant” to support the cause of freedom. Although leaders of the Continental Army “regretted” the impressment of goods and property, there seemed to be no other course of action available to them.

Trying to limit the damage – i.e., worried that the public would reduce its support for the cause of liberty – some measures were taken to mitigate the harm done by such confiscations: owners were partially recompensed with vouchers, low-value paper currency, and tax exemptions. Some efforts were made to avoid impressing goods from the same areas more than once. Wisely, procurement agents were directed to take when possible from those who were already against the cause of independence – from whom there was no support to lose – rather than take from those whose support of independence might be lost to the bitterness of impressment.

The chaos of war created opportunities for abuse, and the practice of impressment was abused by military agents for personal gain, and sometimes for wanton destruction. Citizens resisted politically and physically, when possible. Even when impressment was conducted without corruption, it was often done undiplomatically. The practice reduced motivation for productive work, the fruit thereof being uncertain, and damped trade, inasmuch as import and export shipments could be impressed; this fulfilled a principle stated by Thomas Hobbes that productivity declines in warlike circumstances, and agricultural land will be underutilized. Citizens took to hiding their goods.

One North Carolina resident complained that the agents carrying out the impressments were “selected from the dregs of the people.” If impressment had become necessary, it would have been best to devote more attention, and better personnel, to seeing that it was carrying out as diplomatically as possible. It also became clear that counterfeit impressment agents – in no way connected to the Continental Army – were at work, confiscating property, but having no military authority to do so, and keeping it for themselves.

Some officers, like General Nathanael Greene and Thomas Burke, did a commendable job of policing their own soldiers to ensure than impressment did not turn into mere sacking and plunder.

Many of the problems encountered regarding conscription practices were analogues to those encountered regarding impressment practices. Both had a root in a lack of funding; the thirteen former colonies attempted to offer enticements to elicit volunteer troops, but simply weren’t able to offer enough cash to generate enthusiastic enlisters. The practice of hiring substitutes – men hired by draftees to go in their stead – was widespread and legally allowed. Drafting also led to a relatively high percentage of unfit men reporting for duty, only to be returned home. Local ‘draft boards’ – to use a term from a later era – were perhaps tempted to call upon those less fit, because local communities would object less, and because it was foreseeable that they would be returned home in short order. Draft dodgers were common, and those who did not evade the draft often deserted after showing up to be enlisted. Anti-draft riots occurred in a number of places.

We see that the government of North Carolina was placed into an uncomfortable situation. If the cause of liberty was to have even a chance at victory, large numbers of soldiers, and large quantities of supplies, had to be raised. Yet the infant government – both of the state of North Carolina and of the United States as whole – lacked the finances needed to accomplish this in a purely commercial manner. Impressment and conscription seemed then, and seem in hindsight, the only available route. Although necessary, these means undermined popular support for the cause of independence. Had the war lasted longer, it might have been lost due to conscription and impressment: the lesson is that if one must use these means, make sure that the war is over sooner rather than later, because it is a race against the clock as popular support starts to dwindle (cf. the first Gulf war of 1990, in which political planners worked to keep the war short for similar reasons). A second lesson is that if one must procure goods via impressment, keeping the process diplomatic and free of corruption must be a top priority. The feel of the matter is all to familiar, given the nation’s experiences during the Vietnam conflict.