I know a thing or two about Constitutional Law and the history of the United States Constitution. I am a lifetime student of and, once upon a time, practiced U.S. Constitutional Law. But this idea of "Pro-Constitution", as in "Pro-Constitution Movie of the Year" had previously eluded me. I know about "origionalist Constitutional theorists like Justices Scalia and Thomas. But I'd never heard of "Pro-Constitution". Had I missed something? Had I missed something important?
I couldn't figure out what they meant. I mean, I'm pro-Constitution, in almost every sense. Hell, I used to make my living off of it. I certainly don't favor its overthrow or the sundering of the political union created under it. But, what in the hell is this movie talking about with it's references to patriots perceived as traitors and Civil War era imagery?
I became curious about to whom this film's distributors thought this film would appeal, politically. I wanted to find out how the term "Pro-Constitution" is being used in current discourse and to learn what the movie, which opened yesterday, is about, not to see it, but to regard the political implications of the way it is being marketed.
I went digging a little farther. It isn't pretty, but you can follow me out into the tall grass if you want to know what turned up.
What really started me thinking was the internet site where I found the ad pictured above promoting the film, of which I had never previously heard. I had clicked on a link in a post by Kos. It took me to The American Conservative, a nonpartisan think tank offering right wing-nuttiness for those sort of allergic to nuts. So, along with the the ad's content, the targeting of the ad to a conservative website started me out suspicious that I was looking at a right wing propaganda film. Then, Google and her cousins led me straight to guns and fear of sharia law when I searched "pro-Constitution".
None of this surprised me. I know this director, Ron Maxwell. Both of Maxwell's previous directorial high points are mentioned on the movie poster, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals and I own both, in VHS. You know how it is . . . Dad likes history . . . Dad has Civil War books . . . It's Fathers Day. We'll get him this movie. These films were actually TV miniseries about the Civil War, sort of an almost straight to video thing. As history, particularly the battle history at Gettysburg, Maxwell's past films aren't abysmally inaccurate. But the point about Maxwell is that his love for ole time Southern gentlefolk and the heroic leaders of defeated Dixie drips all over his past films like Karo Syrup oozing from a slice of pecan pie.
BTW, Dad does love history And even before delving into the film or the book on which it is based, Dad knew from the title that the film was likely to be about Copperheads, a dissident, peace faction of Union Democrats during the Civil War. They generally thought it better to let the South go peacefully with whatever institutions it desired to burden itself.
So, what is the story of Copperhead the film? Those prone to queasiness should stop reading now.
It is the story of Abner Beech, whose opposition to the Civil War threatened a community's very existence with "fire, rope, knife, and betrayal". According to the movie website:
Based on the extraordinary novel by Harold Frederic, who witnessed these conflicts firsthand as a small child, Copperhead tells the story of Abner Beech, a stubborn and righteous farmer of Upstate New York, who defies his neighbors and his government in the bloody and contentious autumn of 1862. - See more at: http://www.copperheadthemovie.com/...The reference is to Harold Frederic, a 19th Century novelist of some repute who was himself only six years old in 1862. So, anybody know about that terrible autumn of 1962 in upstate New York? Anybody? Bueller? How about you, Wikipedia?
The Copperheads sometimes talked of violent resistance, and in some cases started to organize. They never actually made an organized attack, however. As war opponents, Copperheads were suspected of disloyalty, and their leaders were sometimes arrested and held for months in military prisons without trial. One famous example was General Ambrose Burnside's 1863 General Order Number 38, issued in Ohio, which made it an offense (to be tried in military court) to criticize the war in any way. The order was used to arrest Ohio congressman Clement L. Vallandigham when he criticized the order itself. Lincoln, however, commuted his sentence while requiring his exile to the Confederacy.So, there was certainly tension and drama, here and there, the most prominent case being the military governor in Ohio who got out of hand and trampled the 1st Amendment in the name of wartime security and arrested a Congressman. Nothing about terrible troubles of suppressed Copperheads in upstate New York in 1862. The kind of government overstepping that history does record is double plus ungood. But it is also not the threatening of an upstate New York farming community with its very existence in the terrible autumn of 1862. Well, its Wikipedia. You can't count on that.
Let's ask a real encyclopedia. What do you say, Britannica?
Nearly all Copperheads were Democrats, but most Northern Democrats were not Copperheads. Copperhead strength was mainly in the Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois), where many families had Southern roots and where agrarian interests fostered resentment of the growing dominance of industrialists in the Republican Party and federal government.Well, OK, Britannica, but what about "the bloody and contentious autumn of 1862" in upstate New York where little Harold Frederic was entering primary school? What about the terrible repression of Copperheads witnessed by little Harold Frederic in New York in 1862, Britannica?
In addition, groups opposed to conscription and emancipation—e.g., the Irish population in New York City, who feared that freed Southern blacks would come north and take jobs away—backed such Peace Democrat leaders as Horatio Seymour, Fernando Wood, and Clement L. Vallandigham. Copperheads also drew strength from the ranks of those who objected to Lincoln’s abrogation of civil liberties and those who simply wanted an end to the massive bloodshed.
In 1862 the Copperheads organized the Knights of the Golden Circle, which successively became the Order of American Knights and the Sons of Liberty. Although Republicans accused these groups of treasonable activities, there is little evidence to support the accusation. Most Copperheads were more interested in maintaining the existence of the Democratic Party and defeating Republican opponents for public office than they were in participating in any disloyal activities.So, the furious repression of, I suppose "Pro-Constitution", Copperhead patriot perceived as traitor, Abner Beech, which dramatically threatened his entire community with fire, knife and rope, in the autumn of 1862, ended, one presumes, when New York elected Copperhead, Horatio Seymour, Governor. Or, maybe no such thing ever happened at all, to be witnessed by little Harold Frederic or anyone else.
The film, of course, is based upon a novel which, necessarily is fiction. But it is preposterous to believe the late 19th Century author of the novel, on which Maxwell based his film, witnessed events even remotely like those depicted in the movie's story that history somehow overlooked in an age when everyone wrote letters and journals.
Perhaps Frederic's Uncle Anton had a sad about the war when Harry was a tyke and it traumatized him enough to spew forth as a novel years later. Harold Frederic wrote many novels and was a noteworthy author who left America at age 30 and never returned.
But, I guess that being pro-Constitutional doesn't mean being even slightly faithful to objective reality or actual history. Mythologies are perfectly acceptable explanations for events in the psychological terrariums where most conservatives abide.
So, now a deceptive, cripto-historical film comes along in the guise of an homage to the tradition of American political dissent and the promoters want to sell tickets and DVD's to the gun nuts and the anti-Sharia nuts, helping them to promote their claim to be "PRO-CONSTITUTIONAL". Well, they can't have the Constitution. I'm pro-Constitutional, too. It belong to us all.
We cannot allow the worst nutcases on the American political right to co-opt the U. S. Constitution as something especially belonging to them and not to those who oppose them. Dare I say this? They cling to their guns and religion. The good news is that they can't maintain their demographic position. As a rear guard action, they try to steal the Constitution for their own on their way out the door.
Well, they can't have it.