Arlene Violet: Who won the Civil War of ideas?

By Arlene Violet
Posted 6/26/20

A Boston College history professor argues that the South actually won the Civil War (Boston College Magazine, summer 2020). Since she was from my Alma Mater (Law ’74) I was interested in her …

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Arlene Violet: Who won the Civil War of ideas?


A Boston College history professor argues that the South actually won the Civil War (Boston College Magazine, summer 2020). Since she was from my Alma Mater (Law ’74) I was interested in her analysis. Professor Heather Cox Richardson expounded upon her research for her book, To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party. She noted that the late Barry Goldwater in one of his books (The Conscience of a Conservative) warned about widespread voting that would lead to redistribution of wealth, and he called for a few elite leaders to direct society. His arguments echoed those made a century earlier when a South Carolina Senator, in 1858, penned a speech similar in an argument which led to the creation of the Confederate States of America whose maxim was that not all men are created equal since some men (white) were better than others and they should run the nation.

I pondered whether the same argument exists today. Has a small group of oligarchs — super wealthy and powerful men — convinced ordinary folk that they should run society? Such a theory excludes women, black Americans and all folks of color from power. As you experience life and read legitimate studies, do you think that there are a significant number of voters who subscribe to the notion that the rich and powerful should lead the country?

I think that there are far too many who do look down on others and consider “some people” to be less than they are. The Declaration of Independence maxim that all are created equal is undermined by policies and societal expectations that undercut such equality. President Donald Trump epitomizes the superiority complex as he extolls his “biggest and best actions” of any president (save Lincoln whom he concedes did “as much for blacks as he has”) and personally attacks anyone who is not in lockstep with him. Any counterargument to his point of view, even if based on unscientific grounds, is excoriated with invective.

Meanwhile, regular folks are thwarted left and right in any effort to exert any power, including the right to vote. In the recent primary election in Georgia primarily black districts were plagued with voter machine breakdown resulting in hours of long lines while the rural white counties experienced relatively fewer problems. Georgia is a pivotal state in the upcoming elections. Absentee ballots in minority districts never got delivered. Georgia has been plagued by years with uneven access for voting.

Sometimes people will question whether there is discrimination. There are thousands of studies which document disparate treatment for blacks in virtually every area where the factual predicate was the same as a white person. Back in the ‘70’s I wrote an Amicus brief for the Catholic Diocese of Providence which opposed the state’s death penalty. During the prior 50 years I found that black criminals were 5 times more likely to get the death penalty vs white perpetrators who committed the same crime using a common crime grid of similarities/dissimilarities. The R.I. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty statute as unconstitutional because of disparate treatment.

Anyone who is truly sincere about facts that have withstood research scrutiny should access these peer reviewed studies in law, health and economic outcomes. It’s an obligation to be educated.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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