Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Civil War—eerie similarities then and now

By Kathleen Maher

Many of us have seen the movie Lincoln, and some of us may have even rooted for Daniel Day Lewis to win the Oscar for his portrayal of history’s favorite president. The timing of this movie is interesting, as is the White House’s presentation of the award for Movie of the Year, presumably in case Spielberg’s biopic won. Coincidence? Perhaps. And why might that be?

I’m glad you asked. If desperate times call for desperate measures, then the orchestrators of controversial measures are less likely to be questioned if the attention of the people is diverted. Parties are a perfectly suitable distraction, and Mary Todd Lincoln sure knew how to throw a soiree. She is the first of the presidents’ wives to go all out decorating and entertaining in the White House. She recognized and capitalized on the power of social networking to advance her husband’s agendas long before there was a twitter to tweet or a facebook to read.

 Controversial measures are not new in the presidency. Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus under the threat of Confederate spying. That means he could detain anyone he felt was a threat to national security with absolutely no body of evidence. Sound familiar? It should. Under the current president, drones and a national security force have been declared a viable option against US citizens deemed a threat—with no evidence necessary. And then there are the expansions of executive power. 

Like our current president, Lincoln was a master at stretching the constitution, such as in declaring the first draft.

My new novella, Bachelor Buttons is a look at what happened in New York City when Lincoln’s Conscription Act was enforced. In some ways, the New York City draft riots are reminiscent of the Occupy Wall street movement. Targeting wealthy republican presses and business owners, thousands of Irish immigrants took to the streets to protest the draft in July 1863. Class warfare, racial prejudice and employment were central issues then, as they are now among the 99%. An element of Tea Party disgruntlement with government thrown in, the Irish felt that the expansion of government and cronyism tainted this unfair legislation, favoring those who could buy their way out of the draft, and exempting freed blacks who were not yet citizens. The struggling Irish felt targeted, new to the country and competing for the most basic jobs with the freedmen.

Exceeding the anarchy of Occupiers and the rhetoric of Tea Partiers, the Civil War draft protest turned violent. Hundreds were killed, mainly peaceful blacks. Dozens of buildings were destroyed, including a black orphanage. The Irish community had much to account for. But there were also instances of heroism, such as an Irish firefighter who fought for hours to save the orphanage, and other Irish who defended black neighbors and friends. Bachelor Buttons is based on these heroes, with some of my family history thrown in.

I am offering a copy of Bachelor Buttons, plus some Irish and Civil War goodies to one lucky commenter. Follow Tina’s blog, and my blog for extra entries. Winner selected Wednesday the 22nd.  Good luck!

You can purchase the novella at Amazon

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Review of Bachelor Buttons

by Kathleen Maher

Bachelor Buttons is set amid the US Civil War in 1863. It tells the story of William Lee and Rose Meehan and is somewhat based on Kathleen Maher's own family history.
It may be a short novella but it has a lot of story to tell. William Lee, a poor Irishman, gives violin lessons while he waits for his chance to shine on stage and works to win the heart of Rose Meehan. Hoping all the while that his name won't appear on the lists for the draft.

With tickets in hand for a concert, he hopes to take his intended, Rose out for a date, only to find that she has another suitor and he must win Rose's affections through a footrace and by winning her father's approval as well. A hard task, when Rose's father is set on marrying her off to Dr. Ian McGuiness, because he feels the doctor can give her a better life.

Rich with romance and laughter, Bachelor Buttons also gives the reader a poignant view of life for the Irish in New York City of 1863. It shows how the poor, usually Irish, were called to duty through the draft and how the rich of the day managed to pay their way out of the draft. This led the Irish to riot against wealthy business owners in New York and caused a great deal of unrest between the Irish and the Blacks of the day, because free Blacks didn’t have to go to war.

If you're looking for a story filled with history and a romance besides pick up Bachelor Buttons and take a trip to the past.