Tuesday, September 8, 2009
OHP BOOK REVIEW: DESTROYING THE REPUBLIC: JABEZ CURRY AND THE RE-EDUCATION OF THE OLD SOUTH BY JOHN CHODES
Non-fiction, footnotes, index, bibliography, 332 pp., 2005. Algora Publishing, 222 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10025-6809.
Publication education as we know it today has not always existed in the form of tax payers paying for the government to education our children. The evolution to this mode of teaching actually began during the colonial period, but up until the War Between the States most schools were privately funded and only for white males. This would drastically change during Reconstruction.
Destroying the Republic: Jabez Curry and the Re-Education of the Old South explores the life of Jabez Curry before, during and after the War Between the States. By using primary sources, many from Mr. Curry’s own letters and writings, the author, Mr. John Chodes, exposes to the reader Mr. Curry, who was an aristocratic Alabamian who served his country prior to the onset of war in the Alabama Assembly and United States Congress where he steadfastly supported states rights and a small, limited Federal government. “As an active promoter of education, he (Mr. Curry) staunchly believed that this important function was entirely each state’s responsibility and completely outside Washington’s sphere,” Mr. Chodes states on the back cover.
Mr. Curry’s reflections of prominent people who served the Confederacy in some form or fashion are enlightening. Mr. Curry states this about the Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens, “Tall, spare, not weighing over one hundred pounds, nearly bloodless, with a feminine voice and appearance, he seemed incapable of physical labor or fatigue. He was spoken of as a ‘refugee from a graveyard.’…As a stump speaker he had few equals. His remarkable physique, penetrating voice, ingenious frankness, humor, satire, repartee, eloquence, made him a great favorite.” Curry was elected from the 4th District of Alabama in the Confederate Congress where he participated in the creation of the Confederate Constitution. He was assigned to four committees in the Provisional Congress: Postal, Commercial Affairs, Rules, and Flag and Seal. In February, Curry would end his term as a Congressman and return to Alabama, only to have Jefferson Davis appoint him as Commissioner under the Habeas Corpus Act, to serve with General Johnston’ army, where he would stay until the end of the war.
When the war was over, Curry returned home to Talladega to try to assume a normal life; however, Reconstruction was as cruel to him as it was too many Confederate soldiers and dignitaries. “For years after the surrender, detachments of Union troops marched through the country, searching for cotton and booty, arresting citizens on false charges supplied by war-time Unionists,” Mr. Chodes states in his book. Two principals used by the Radical Republicans to completely overthrow the South’s social, political and economic existence were “State Suicide” and “Conquered Province.” Both were vicious plans to subjugate the South and both had universal education proposals. President Andrew Johnson states this when the South was divided into military districts under a commander with absolute power, “It (Constitution) binds all people there, and should protect them; yet they are denied every one of its sacred guarantees. Of what avail will it be to these Southern people, when seized by a file of soldiers, to ask the cause of arrest, or for the production of the warrant? Of what avail to ask for the privilege of bail when in military custody, which knows no such things as bail? Of what avail to demand a trial by jury, process for witnesses, a copy of the indictment, the privilege of counsel, or that grater privilege, the writ of habeas corpus?”
Before a Southern state could be readmitted into the Union, it was required to have a public, tax supported education system clause in its post-war Constitution. According to Mr. Norton, a Minnesota Senator, “If the Congress of the United States can… compel us to make a system that will conform to the views of Congress, then, what becomes of the States, and why do we have States? Why have apportionment of the representatives in the other House, and in this, according to the States? Why not call us, as the Senator from Illinois says, all one people; one country and have no State government and no local government at all?” According to J.P. Wikersham, a Radical Republican educator, “The thing of highest interest in a republic is its schools… When our youth learn to read similar books, similar lessons, we shall become one people, possessing one organic nationality, and the Republic will be safe for all time.” Wikersham than goes on to state, “A republican form of government cannot exist without providing a system of free schools. A republic must make education universal among its people. Ignorant voters endangered liberty. With free schools in the South there could have been no rebellion. And free schools must now render impossible rebellion in the future.”
“It appears that Jabez had no problem joining forces with those who were intent on exterminating Southern culture and Southern minds,” per Mr. Chodes. Curry in 1881 became General Agent of the Peabody Education Board and a nationally prominent figure. This fund was used as a matching fund for communities starting public schools to entice the people to support a tax supported school. Curry states, “We are tethered to the lowest stratum of society, and if we do not lift it up, it will drag us down to the nethermost hell of poverty and degradation. In uplifting the Negro in manhood and womanhood, we are uplifting ourselves.” His viewpoint changes, but it appears in a desire to educate the South to better the citizens, not for government control. He will continue in many facets to evolve his train of thought. As the country took major steps toward nationalized schools, Curry seemed to progress in similar reflection. “Despite his disillusionment, he continued to press forward to nationalize Southern schools… Jabez Lafayette Monroe Curry, the former champion of home-rule, fought to the end of his life to make the South a ward of Washington, and near the end, only faintly realized the consequences of his labors.”
Destroying the Republic: Jabez Curry and the Re-Education of the Old South is an examination of not only the life of Curry, but also a study of Reconstruction and its affects on the Southern people. By using primary sources from Curry and many other individuals, Mr. Chodes is able to give a bird’s eye view of what tragedies took place. Worthy of note, it is unclear to this reviewer why Curry made such drastic changes in his thought process. This publication is required reading for any educator or person working tin the public school system. It is insightful to how the country arrived at the current state. “By the 20th century, this plan had turned on itself and emptied out Northern children’s minds as well. This transformed the US republic in the 21st Century into an emerging dictatorship,” states Mr. Chodes on the back cover.
Book review by Cassie A. Barrow