If you were to believe many – if not most – of the current political and historical mainstream media commentators, almost everything we see and hear is new or at least never happened before.
The fact is that little is.
A brief check of the historical record – which of course is very limited since it stretches back only several centuries in an almost infinite past — proves that conclusively.
Let’s start with the assertion that the U.S. political scene today is more deeplydivided deeply than ever before. The truth is, of course, that from its very origins the Republic has than been rocked by different schools of political persuasion, some dangerously violent. The controversy over slavery which among other issues produced the Civil War. It was perhaps the most significant example of a more troubled, or certainly equally troubled time.
George Washington, the first president, refused to permit the House of Representatives to examine his Jay Treaty regulating commerce with Great Britain arguing that only the Senate was assigned that role in the Constitution. And as early as 1807 Pres. Thomas Jefferson warned the Congress that Aaron Burr, a prominent politician who had killed Jefferson’s rival, Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was plotting from New Orleans to create a new country beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Burr was placed on trial for treason. But Jefferson, invoking the concept of “executive privilege”, refused to submit evidence supporting Burr. Burr emerged from the trial, his reputation further besmirched losing any hope for the presidency he had coveted.
A country divided?
Similarly the assertion current repeated endlessly that the war between the Trump White House and the mainstream media is a new phenomenon is equally false. President Abraham Lincoln, although he was conducting a war, permitted newspapers which were openly sympathetic to the South to publish materials opposed to his policies. The “Copperhead press”, as this group of papers sympathetic to the South was called, was vitriolic in its protests. In riposte, a Massachusetts mob of Union soldiers tarred and feathered Ambrose Kimball, editor of the Essex County Democrat. He was targeted for printing anti-Union stories and editorials.
But Lincoln did find it necessary to withdraw the five freedoms otherwise theoretically secured by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Zechariah Chafee Jr., a noted free speech scholar writes.: “Undoubtedly [Lincoln] permitted a very large number of arbitrary arrests …… ‘Must I shoot a simple soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?’, Lincoln asked in response to his critics …He was proceeding against men who were so far within the test of direct and dangerous interference with the war that they were actually causing desertions, and even then he acted to prevent and not to punish.”
A former Ohio congressman, Clement L. Vallandigham, a diehard Copperhead and a defender of state rights although personally opposed to slavery, claimed the national government could not constitutionally compel the states to end what was called the “peculiar institution.” The war, he said, was waged by ‘King’ Lincoln … for the purpose of crushing out liberty and erecting a despotism” calling for Lincoln’s removal from office. Vallandigham’s supporters burned the offices of a Republican newspaper, the Dayton Journal, and was arrested and charged him with uttering “disloyal sentiments and opinions, with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the Government in its efforts to suppress unlawful rebellion. The former congressman was sentenced by a military tribunal to “close confinement” until the end of the war but Lincoln, changed the punishment to banishment to the Confederacy.