It's pretty hard to ignore the significance of the day I'm writing this. It is near the anniversary of a controversial electoral vote count and the uprising that shook the nation's capitol 163 years ago to stop it.
Yes, when most folks wrote about the riot at the capitol in 2021, they usually said it was the first time the building had been attacked since the British had their way with it during the War of 1812. But that was an actual war, and actual foreigners with guns and uniforms and poncy officers. No, this was a bunch of angry groundlings who didn't like the guy who'd just been elected and wanted to disrupt the vote count.
That guy was Abraham Lincoln and a month earlier, southern states, led by the one Nikki Haley ran a few years ago, began saying adios to the United States of America. And thus began the noble effort to protect what apologists refer to as "State's Rights," the essential one being the right to own someone else. I'll send Nikki a copy of this to remind her of that.
I thought I remembered that this had happened, and started doing some reading. I stumbled into the work of Dr. Ted Widmer of the City University of New York. So in an attempt to avoid Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) treating me like Dr. Claudine Gay, I want to fully credit Ted for the information here.
Whew. I only hope Rafael doesn't find out I'm a DEI hire at the Texas Outlaw Writers.
Anyway, the election of 1860 was obviously fraught with significance and when Lincoln was elected, the yahoo rumblings began. A Virginia Congressman hilariously named Musco Garnett called Honest Abe a tyrant, even though he wasn't yet in charge of anything but the carriage taking him to Washington.
But even though most of the south had already seceded, when it came time to count the electoral votes, on February 21st back then, a crowd formed outside the capitol with the intent of breaking in and with or without a buffalo horn headdress, disrupting the counting of the electoral votes to confirm Lincoln's victory.
Ironically, just as in 1961 and 2001, the vice President who presided over the official count was the man defeated by the President-elect, and like Nixon and Gore, Vice-President John C. Breckinridge took the job seriously. Even though he was a Virginian, and would later serve in the shambolic Confederate government, he took the boxes containing the certified electoral votes and hid them until the danger passed.
And danger was anticipated. Widmer says that newspapers were full of predictions of violence and worse. Crowds of pro-slavery rubes had started gathering in Washington a week earlier and the papers, according to Widmer, were full of worrisome headlines.
Virginia’s former governor Henry Wise was openly calling for an invasion, and many diary accounts and newspaper articles of the time expressed fear that some kind of takeover was imminent. In The New York Times, a reporter mentioned “plots to take the city, blow up the public buildings, and prevent the inauguration of Lincoln.” Another article described “the blowing up of the Capitol” as a distinct possibility.
One reason it didn't come to that is summed up in one name. General Winfield Scott.
After several fights, attempted shootings and one guy trying to force a duel at the Capitol, Congress established the US Capitol Police force in 1828. And the head of that force in 1861, was the general and war hero commissioned an officer under President Jefferson in 1808, who had personally interviewed him for that promotion, incidentally. Scott was a Virginian himself, but according to all accounts, held his loyalty to his country higher than any accident of birth.
When he learned of the impending violence, Scott replied, in that understated tone later adopted by guys like George Patton, that any intruder would...
“...be lashed to the muzzle of a twelve-pounder and fired out the window of the Capitol.” He added, “I would manure the hills of Arlington with the fragments of his body.”
OK, not subtle, but effective. On the day of the count, the crowd of anti-Lincoln louts were confronted by soldiers and denied entrance to the building. They had a few choice words for General Scott as well, calling him a...
“Free state pimp!” “Old dotard!” “Traitor to the state of his birth!”
It was pretty heated in the chamber as well. When a secessionist senator from Texas (Oh, great, of course.), Louis Wigfall, asked Scott if he would dare to arrest a senator for treason, Scott exploded: “No! I will blow him to hell!”
When the time came though, Breckinridge, like Mike Pence, did his duty and carried out the count that made his defeat official.
Even then, it was still touch and go. Widmer says...
In New York, a lawyer, George Templeton Strong, confided to his diary: “This was the critical day for the peace of the capital. A foray of Virginia gents … could have done infinite mischief by destroying the legal evidence of Lincoln’s election.”
Well those gents didn't do any "Infinite Mischief" then, but the next four years were pretty full of shenanigans. And just three weeks later the new President walked into that building, whose dome was still being repaired, stood on the east portico and asked all of us to heed the "better angels of our nature."
But, of course, we didn't and 700,000 people paid for that. But time has a way of smoothing the edges of nasty events. I now get Facebook messages from some new group called Monuments Across Dixie.
This is a revisionist, "Lost Cause" group of meatheads who hit the "Like" button when a photo of Nathan Bedford Forrest is posted. You know, the guy who commanded the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow and later was a Grand Wizard of the Klan? That guy.
So, we seem to find it easy to excuse, ignore, and rationalize even the most egregious events, and people. Ergo a leading Presidential candidate calling the January 6th prisoners "hostages." This after we now know he wouldn't lift a finger to stop the assault. Well, OK, to be fair, said fingers were wrapped around a Big Mac, but still.
And now, like angels on the head of a pin, we argue over the terminology, particularly the term "insurrection." And, no, it's not in the charges many of the rioters face, nor in any of Donald Trump's indictments.
But some rioters were charged with and convicted of "Sedition." And the Grand Fromage himself charged with obstructing an official proceeding and three other counts stemming from his alleged efforts to resist the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.
Even with that understanding, he should still be on the ballot. If all that we know isn't enough to disqualify him in the minds of voters, it speaks volumes about where we are as a people.
I was a TV News Director in Amarillo on that day. We had all watched the strange rally in front of the White House, wondering what kind of sore loser holds a rally against losing on the day his losing will be certified. One of my producers ran into my office later and said breathlessly, "You need to come see what's going on at the Capitol!"
What I saw, and what all of us saw, was shameful, a bit frightening and now, according to some apologists, a simple expression of disagreement with the results of an election. It was more than that, and we all know it. All the diversions about the George Floyd demonstrations and riots won't change the fact that this wasn't about just damaging a building. This wasn't breaking windows at an Academy Sporting Goods store because you're angry about an injustice.
It was an attempt to stop what we have managed to do every election year in the history of this country. It's no more excusable than it was in 1861.
Where is Winfield Scott when you really need him?
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.