Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Jesse James

Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man,
He robbed the Danville Train;
He stole from the rich, and he gave to the poor,
He'd a hand and a heart and a brain. 

The story of Jesse James offers an insight into why so many poor (and not so poor) Southerners, who seemed to have no investment in slavery or in the continuation of the plantation system, supported the secessionist cause in the Civil War. One need only look at the targets of James’s own personal continued war.

Many a Southerner identified the bankers and the railroads that were squeezing the small farmer with ‘the North.’ They felt, and often with good cause, that these forces were grinding them down, becoming ever more powerful and wealthy at the expense of the common man.

Jesse James was a man, a friend to the poor,
He'd never see a man suffer pain,
And with his brother Frank, he robbed the Chicago bank,
And stopped the Glendale train.

The largely agrarian South was certainly being hit hard by these economic and political changes. Many believed that their whole way of life was threatened and that included, unfortunately, slavery and other home-grown injustices — they didn’t have to look to the North for those.

The Civil War was fought over a tangled host of reasons, that is certain. These do include the early stirrings of the populist agrarian movements that would blossom later in the century. It is not surprising, then, that post-war Southerners eventually made common cause with Northern progressives. There would have been no New Deal without Southern Democrats coming on board.

The people held their breath, when they heard of Jesse's death...

Though history has laid poor Jesse in his grave, and he lost his war, it is a struggle that still goes on. Today, Wall Street runs right across the nation and it is no longer a matter of North and South, or West and East. These are just some thoughts brought on by the folk song, Jesse James, which is very much in the us-versus-them populist spirit of its time. We may all need a bit of that spirit, Jesse’s spirit, in us, one of these days.

No comments: