|THE COUSINS' WAR|
March 15, 1999
DAVID GERGEN: Kevin, you began this project by trying to write a book about Saratoga, the turning point in the American Revolution, and then you expanded and expanded your focus, and you decided to write not only about the American Revolution, but the British Civil War, and then later on the American Civil War, three wars covering three centuries.
KEVIN PHILLIPS, Author, The Cousins' War: Well, I had two views of them. The first is that they were the principal civil wars of the English-speaking peoples: The American Civil War, the American Revolution, and the English Civil War in the 1640's. But beyond that, for somebody with my political background, they were the first emerging Republican majorities. Now, that's the book I wrote more than 30 years ago about the politics of the 1960's. But the first emerging Republican majority was the one in 1860 with Abraham Lincoln, capital "R" Republican. Then you go back to the emerging republican small "r" majority of 1776 and then to the first English-speaking republican majority, very brief, in the English Civil War, and there was a real lineage, and by the time I'm getting into the real lineage, I'm hooked.
DAVID GERGEN: Okay. Well, now, tell us what the lineage is, because you clearly believe the three wars are connected, and they've had an enormous impact upon history, not only in this country, but upon world history.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, they're related in a lot of ways, but they're especially related in certain functions and alignments. They shared constituencies. The prevailing force in each of these civil wars can be traced from the Southeast of England, the people who supported parliament and the Puritans against the king in the English Civil War, then over to the new world.
DAVID GERGEN: This is Cromwell's people?
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Yes, that's right.
DAVID GERGEN: They came out of East Anglia -
KEVIN PHILLIPS: They came out of East Anglia, and a lot of their cousins had already left and gone to New England. Then you had in the American Revolution the real key to the fighting. The beginning of the tension and the hostility was in New England, more than in Virginia, which came a bit later. And then in the American Civil War, it was a war again where the Republican Party was led by Greater New England. The slavery issue had mobilized, essentially, the Yankees much more than anybody else. Now, at the same time as you had this phenomenon, this ancestry that they shared, what you had on each of the winning sides in these wars was that victory went to the side that represented commerce, that represented the middle class, that was pushing for "liberty," that was low church as opposed to high church, and that really had more of a vision of the future and wanted to step out of the feudalism, whether it was the feudalism of the 17th century or the mercantilist system of the 18th or the slaveocracy and plantation system of the 19th. So luckily for us, out of each of these wars, the winning side created a forward motion, and created something that differentiated the English-speaking peoples from the continent of Europe, which was much more authoritarian, high church, much less flexible, much less experimenting. And the English-speaking peoples picked up the marbles.
DAVID GERGEN: And they were also much more dedicated toward freedom, toward political freedom, toward personal freedom.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Political freedom, and, in the end, religious freedom, because you had so many brands of Protestantism competing that in the end, they couldn't stick with a state church. I mean, the British have one now, but it's very nominal. But in the United States, the competition of Protestantism made for religious freedom, and as a result, the English-speaking peoples have those two beacons, political and religious freedom.
DAVID GERGEN: Talk a bit more about the religious connection, because you pointed out in your book that you think there's a triangle here between war, religion, and politics.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Absolutely, because war was something that was almost second nature in the Europe of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. And what they were fighting over, whether it was in Spain or the Mediterranean or wherever, they were fighting over religion -- Protestants versus Catholics, and sometimes variations on Protestantism. And as a result, the politics was religion, the war was over the politics of religion, and it really was a triangle. And a lot of the historians will say that it's actually hard to go in and make the differentiations that the 20th century wants to separate politics and religion and then to separate the rationales and reasons for war from religion, because it was just so much assumed back then that it all rolled together.
DAVID GERGEN: But there was a lineage, a common lineage on the religious side that went from the English Civil War of the 1640's, the kinds of people, the kind of approach they brought to religion, that there was a common lineage down to the American Revolution.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Absolutely. The divisions in the American Revolution, even though it was 130 years later, followed the same basic alignments of the English Revolution, which is to say you had a variation of the Puritans and the low-church Anglicans against the High-Church Anglicans, and that was the basic framework of the English Civil War. And you had it again in the American Revolution. The High-Church Anglicans were the Tories in the colonies and the bulwark of the war over in England. The Country Party, low-church Anglicans were the Virginians, and the Puritans were the Yankees up in New England. And once you understand that, you really get a major key to understanding the divisions within the American Revolution and how it was a civil war. It was a fighting civil war on our side of the Atlantic, but it was a bitter political war within Parliament and in petition drives over in the United Kingdom.
DAVID GERGEN: Did it also make this country more egalitarian, and also more of a populist nation?
KEVIN PHILLIPS: This, in my opinion, is the secret not just of the American Revolution, but of the success of the English-speaking peoples, because whereas none of the other major political, linguistic blocks in Europe were capable of doing this, the English would basically let their colonies be settled by dissenters and political troublemakers, and as a result, a major component in the American Revolution was the restiveness of the Puritans, of the Scottish and the Scotch- Irish dissenters, the Quakers and others, just a whole lot of people who were there because they were troublemakers, and they set up an American Republic, which was the country of the troublemakers, of the people who were left out, who had fled for religious freedom. And it became one magnet, and Britain was another magnet. It was a magnet for aristocracy, for imperialism, for maritime success around the world. And the two together swept an incredible dragnet because they appealed to two different centuries in many ways. The British controlled the imperial century, and America took over in the democratic century.
DAVID GERGEN: The imperial century being the 19th?
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Even the end of the 18th, because the British became top dog after the French and Indian War in 1763.
DAVID GERGEN: The bottom line, then, is that these wars and their impact, the way they changed the politics and the religious framework in these two countries really had a dramatic change by the 20th century.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: They were the central staircase, in my opinion, of the evolution of the English- speaking peoples -- politically, culturally, and religiously. And more than that, one of the things they did in the 19th century, which had an enormous influence on the 20th century, is they removed populations from Europe and changed their politics. If the English had never been able to squeeze troublemakers out of the British Isles, they would have had a Parliament in 1914 that would have been 35 or 40 percent Irish. They would have been up the creek without a paddle. But they probably never would have gotten that far, because the Irish and the Scots would have fought alongside the French or the Spanish, and England might have been blocked. Then we get to the 20th century, and we've got a situation in which huge numbers of Germans that could have tipped the balance of power in Europe were there stretched out in this huge mass from Pennsylvania to the Great Plains, some of them still speaking German, and when they come into the wars in Europe, two of them, they're wearing khaki, and they're saying, "one, two, three, four," instead of "Eins, zwei, drei, vier," and that was just an enormous impact.
DAVID GERGEN: Kevin Phillips, thank you very much.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Thanks.