Monday, September 17, 2012

How the West was Wooed

            So it turns out that last year was the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, something that I probably should have taken notice of. But I wasn’t a member of Reddit then, so I didn’t notice until it was revealed that today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or the Battle of Sharpsburg for my Dixie readers), the bloodiest day in American history. So since we know it only takes 22.3 years for something to be funny (source: South Park), I felt I’d celebrate such a tragedy by revealing a little bit about The War of Northern Aggression’s roots.
            Basically it can all be blamed on Congress. Like, all of it. Ever since the Constitution, our government’s answer to slavery was to humph and hurrah for so long that by the time you demanded an answer, somebody new had taken their office. Compromise after compromise, carefully worded legal document avoiding the term “slave” after carefully worded legal document avoiding the term “slave,” Congress declined to comment on the most divisive issue since the bicameral legislature.
            Now don’t get me wrong, I love compromises. I know most people don’t, so I’m willing to scale it back and say that I just like them. Sound fair? I think I’m the only person who is fully pleased by someone else’s compromise. But when all you do is not do, it tends to catch up with you, as Congress found out from 1786 to 1861.
            Perhaps I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. Ya’ll don’t even know what crude and inflexible metaphor I’m going to use to explain a hundred years of history! So here it is. It’s a doozy:
            The Civil War was a messy breakup between an unhappy couple, tempted by another woman.
Hey, I'm California. Be sure and
check out Disneyland!
            Let me unpack that for you. Remember my “Revolutions are high school dances” theory that shook academia to its core? This is very similar, unshockingly. The relationship between the North and South was always a rocky one, filled with arguments, squabbles, duels, and even a hyphenated last name (Oh Mason-Dixon jokes, you’ll never get old). The South was a colonel dandy type man, still drinking mint juleps and holding jousting tournaments. The North was kind of a cold, stiff girl, concerned with telling everyone how to act and ending alcohol drinking. They had their differences, sure, but they got along okay.
            That is until the West comes into town. Finally free from her break up with France, the West offers things to the South the North can’t match. Expansive territory, fertile soil, and down in Louisiana, those wet lowlands he’s been missing. Hey, I had a blowjob joke when I talked about France last time, that one’s getting past the censors too.
            The North notices his wandering eye, of course, but she figures she could just be friends with the West and shut the whole thing down. The couple agrees to some rules about the temptress West, resulting in the Missouri Compromise. Okay, the South can spread slavery to the new state of Missouri and hang out with the West, but the North gets some more room of their own, in Maine. She probably just needed more room for shampoo, amirite, fellas?!
            But then President James “Kickass” Polk comes to the relationship and really expands the West’s role in the North and South’s lives. He extends territories all the way to the Pacific then doesn’t run for reelection, because James “Kinda Shady Reasons for War” Polk is a boss and there was nothing awesome left to do.
"Hey, here's a quarter of Mexico and a whole
bunch of Oregon. See ya. Polk out."
            Now the couple sees way more of the West than they did before. While the North likes her haircut up in the Oregon Territory and the jewelry they can mine in Nevada, the South is checkin’ out her fine hills and ridges, nah ahm sayin’? And you best believe that the North wasn’t going to have the South expanding all the way into the West, to the Pacific. She could see the way he was looking at California’s rich soil that if she didn’t lay down the law soon, he’d be incorrigible for the future. So the North starts trying to pass “No slavery in the new territories”/”You can’t hang out with this hot West chick without me in the room,” legislation, and of course the South doesn’t like that. “What about the Missouri Compromise, bro?” The South probably didn’t ask his girlfriend, the North.
            The news was that the Missouri Compromise was old and busted. The South had gotten Texas, but the North moved quickly to secure California as a free, “No tickling cause that’s too much flirting” state. Instead of the Odd Couple-esque Missouri Compromise line, the two agreed they’d let the West decide for herself which one of them she wanted to hang out with. The North and South thought they’d try the new technique at this hot restaurant called “Kansas” that had just entered the Union. It was the breadbasket of the nation, and supposedly they had great drink specials too. God, I love history jokes.
            Okay, I could fill a whole post about how Bleeding Kansas would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. I’m going to drop the metaphor for a bit (You’re welcome) in order to tell it how it actually went down. The whole “popular sovereignty” thing was real, and on paper, looks like a great idea. It pleased state’s rights activists in the South as well as the pure-democracy supporters in the North. Let the people vote whether they were going to be free or slave when they entered the Union! Yay! But, uh, there’s no real way of telling whether these people actually live here or not. That’s important because there are many pro-slavery people living like, thirty miles away in Missouri. And anti-slavery people living just as close in Nebraska and Iowa. So everyone and their mother start flooding into Kansas to have a chance on influencing the vote their way. Now instead of two separate states glaring at each other from across the river, we’ve got people with mutually exclusive moral systems living together. So called pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” begin stirring up trouble, starting fires in Lawrence and killing one man in the process. So Pastor John Brown takes the logical approach of going to the nearest pro-slavery settlement (that wasn’t affiliated with the first group in any way) and HACKING PEOPLE TO DEATH WITH BROADSWORDS. As a way to die, that wouldn’t exactly be pleasant, but you have to admit, it’s pretty metal.
-John Brown
            So Kansas has its own little mini-Civil War from 1854 up until 1861, with the start of the big boy Civil War. It was like a Civil War scrimmage. All in all, sixty people died from this infighting. Eventually the state was added to the Union as a free state, and provided politicians with an important rule: don’t let people decide their own future because they’ll end up hacking each other to death with medieval weaponry. In D.C. things were getting worse at this time too. A senator named Charles Sumner had the crap beat out of him with a cane on the floor of Congress by a Southerner after giving an offensive speech declaring slavery as a "harlot" and probably "totally queah" (he was from Massachusetts).  You can say our Congress is at its most partisan now, but until John Boehner has the orange beaten off of him, you'd be hard pressed to back that point up.
            But back to the metaphor: The North and South are meeting the West at Kansas, and they’re both vying for her attention and affection. And if you’ve seen one bad romcom, you should know how this ends- with the North and South shouting at each other in front of every other patron present. “You don’t respect my traditions and notions of God-willed entitlement!” the South yelled, slamming his fists down on the table. “Yeah, well how about you get some MANUFACTURING JOBS!” the North yelled, throwing a drink on him, all while the West is sitting and shifting awkwardly in her seat.
"I'm getting the feeling you don't even WANT me to
hold blacks as property for their entire life." 
            The couple returned to their apartment in D.C., fuming at each other for the mix-up. The North decided she’d cool down by getting drinks with her friend Abraham Lincoln, who had always disapproved of the South’s life choices, and that was all he could handle. The South packed up his cotton sheets, tobacco plants, more than a few human servants, and walked right out the door to crash at his buddy Jefferson's house.
            And that’s how one of the most important events in American history unfolded. Well, of course, 1,000,000 times as detailed and 10 times as accurate, but you know, whatever. 

He should probably stop signing his name to these things,

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