Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book update

After lots of procrastination and fussing, I finally sent off the book proposal last night. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or terrified at the moment.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The CSA constitution in light of the secession ordinances

Over the last four years, conservatives have tried to own the constitution, just as they have for the last half century owned the flag and patriotism. And, once again, liberals are making a monstrous mistake by not fighting for it. Liberals also love and support the constitution. That we interpret it differently than conservatives does not mean we do not believe in it.

I read the Constitution. I keep a little one right here on the desk next to a copy of Archy and Mehitabel. These are the only books on the desk. I also read other constitutions. A few years back I went through all the state constitutions to see what they said about religious rights. Every so often I read the Confederate Constitution. Like the secession ordinances, it's a very interesting view into what was important to them at the time they seceded.

Let's review the secession ordinances. Five of the eleven seceding states gave reasons for doing so. Those states were South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Arkansas. The one reason they all agreed on was that the victory of the Republicans in the recent election made them sure that abolitionists would use the power of the state to end slavery. The next most common complaint was that the northern states refused to enforce fugitive slave laws. Three states specifically cited slavery being excluded from most of the western Territories. Two were upset that Black men were allowed to vote in the North. Arkansas was upset that slave owners were prevented from bringing their slaves with them when traveling in the North and Texas was upset that the federal government didn't do enough to prevent Indian attacks.

All this is preface to the Confederate Constitution. These were the immediate stated reasons for secession. Surely, there were other, broader issues that they cared about? Yes, there were. That's still true today. Different regions have different priorities. Depending on the makeup of their populations, their economies, and and their geographic positions, some things will matter more than others. The Confederate Constitution reflects what mattered to the slave-holding states in 1861. Today, I'll talk about how the Confederate Constitution dealt with their grievances over slavery. In the next installation of Treason Appreciation Month, I'll look at what it has to say about big government and states' rights.

How did the Confederate States of America get their constitution? The United States Constitution was the result of months of deliberation by some of the greatest minds of the thirteen states and tested by more months of public debate before being ratified. That's not how the Confederates did it. In fact, their Constitution was an afterthought.

On January 11, 1861, Alabama was the fourth state to secede. While the previous three secession ordinances speak only for their specific states and the immediate moment. Alabama's ordinance envisioned a common front among all slave states, whether for defense, negotiation, or other purposes. By resolution, Alabama invited all of the slave states to meet in Montgomery on February 4 "for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security." When the convention met, they were pretty much decided on forming a new federation and promptly empowered a committee to write a constitution. They gave them two days to do so. Fortunately, one of the members of the committee already had a constitution in his pocket and by the due date they had completed the task and already had copies to pass around the convention.

Considering the short work involved, it should surprise no one that the Confederate Constitution is nothing more than a revision of the Union Constitution. They did not begin anew from first principles; they simply changed those parts they didn't like. The easiest change they made was to go through and change the word "United" into "Confederate" wherever it appeared.

Next, they added God. Today, it's common wisdom among Christian nationalists that the founding fathers intended the US to be a Christian nation. They just, uh, forgot to mention that when they wrote the Constitution or when they wrote that amendment about established religion. What did the good Christians of the Bible belt do to fix this? I think most modern Christian nationalists would say "not enough." To the Preamble, they added, "invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God." Where dates were mentioned, they used the form "year of our Lord." Other than that, they gave squat to Christianity. The First Amendment was carried over unchanged into their Constitution.

What else did they change? There are a number of line by line comparisons on the internet. That's the best way to go. The first time I read the Confederate Constitution was in a paperback book of Civil War documents published in the seventies with brackets and fonts to indicate what the Confederates kept, added, changed, and deleted. It was fascinating, but it took a lot of close attention and note-taking to understand. The internet version I most often go to these days is this one. I like the simple two-column comparison with a third column for comments.

The Confederate Constitution is very clear on the issues of slavery. Whereas the US Constitution never uses the word "slave"--using instead circumlocutions like "Persons bound to Service--the Confederate Constitution makes clear exactly what they mean by using the word "slave" whenever they mean slave. As far as the issue of slavery is concerned, the most important clause in the entire constitution is in the list of things Congress cannot do: Article I, section 9, part 4, "No ... law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." The common complaint in the secession ordinances was that they feared the Republicans would attempt to use the power of the central to abolish slavery. This clause puts that fear to rest. Three of the other complaints are specifically dealt with.

The US Constitution already had a clause dealing with with fugitive slaves (Art. IV, Sec. 2, Pt. 1). The complaint of the southern states was that the northern states refused to enforce it. This should not have been a problem in the Confederacy, unless non-slave states were admitted at some date in the future. Their only changes to the clause were to make it more clear and emphatic.

Arkansas' complaint that slave owners were prevented from bringing their slaves with them when traveling in other states was dealt with in a very clear manner. Article IV, Section 2, Part 1, which in the US Constitution reads "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States..." was changed by the addition of "...and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired." Again, this should not have been a problem in the Confederacy, unless non-slave states were admitted. The final clause prevents any kind of shenanigans whatsoever.

The issue of taking in additional states was something that the architects of the Confederacy had on their minds. Pro-South groups existed throughout the West. If the secession crisis had happened a year later, there might very well have been a friendly territory carved out of southern California. After the shooting started, the leaders of the main tribes in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) agreed to join the Confederacy. Rather that go east to fight the Union, Texas sent part of its armies west where they created a territory called Arizona. The Confederate Constitution kept the the same provisions as the US Constitution that allowed the central government to administer territory not belonging to any individual state, to organize territorial governments, and to admit territories as new states (Art. IV, Sec. 3). Naturally, a new clause was added that required all territories to allow slave owners to bring their slaves and guaranteed that all new states would be slave states. one unexplained difference between the two constitutions it that the Confederate Constitution required a two-thirds majority in congress to admit a new state while the US only required a simple majority.

The final complaint in the secession ordinances was that northern states allowed free Black men full citizenship, including the vote*. One of the clauses of the Amendment offered by Arkansas to save the Union was that freedmen in  other states be disenfrancised. South Carolina cited racial equality in the North as one of the insults suffered by the South. Texas indignantly proclaimed that it was an "undeniable truth that the governments of the various States ...  were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity." While the other complaints were dealt with in a very specific manner, this one is not.

Since the reason for the secessions and the formation of the Confederacy was the preservation of a system of race-based subjugation  it's curious that nothing is said in the Confederate Constitution about limiting citizenship, or the vote, or anything to just the White race. The word "White" never appears. Did they think it was too obvious to mention? That would be an odd thing to think. All of the revisions made to the Constitution relating to slavery, were made to make explicit things they believed understood by all that had been interpreted by the rest of the Union in ways that hurt slave owners. How difficult would it have been to shove in a sentence that said only White folk could become citizens and exercise the rights of citizenship. Perhaps, to them, it was so obvious that they didn't think to mention it.

Next: Big Government, States' Rights, and the Rest of the Confederate Constitution.

* I was always under the impression that Louisiana Freemen did have the right to vote. Does anyone know the details on this?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Shetland mammoths were bigger than shetland ponies

A few weeks ago, some surveyors in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland came across an interesting piece of bone. It was about a foot in length, thick, curved and broken at both ends. They thought it might be a piece of walrus tusk, but it was unusual enough that they took it to Val Turner, the island archaeologist. Turner is not a paleontologist, but she knew enough to realize this was not a walrus tusk. She bundled it up and sent it to the Paleontology Museum of Uppsala University in Sweden.

Based on the nature of this blog, I'm sure you can all guess what it is. If I was there I could have told them in less than a minute that it was a piece of tusk from a proboscid, and determined whether it was from a mammoth or a modern elephant (the trick is to look at something called Schreger lines). That is what Uppsala told Turner.

Why is this a big deal? Sections of mammoth ivory are found all over the North and this one is a pretty ratty looking piece. What makes this piece unique and explains Turner's inability to identify is that no evidence of mammoths has ever been seen on the Shetlands.

The islands were completely buried under the ice during the last glacial maximum. Because so much water was locked up in the ice caps the oceans were several hundred feet lower during the glacial maxima. Britain was attached to the mainland and most of the North Sea was dry (or ice covered land). Mammoth ivory is fairly common in England and Ireland and trawlers regularly bring up mammoth bones and ivory from the sea.

This brings up two possibilities to explain the ivory. First, is that a small population of mammoths established themselves on the islands after the ice melted, but before the ocean had risen to its current level. Second, is that this is a piece of ivory washed up from the North Sea during a storm. Hurricane force storms are not uncommon in those parts.

For now, the Shetland Amenity Trust has closed the area where the tusk was found. This week, experts from Uppsala arrived to hunt for other mammoth bones. I'll be watching for follow-up news.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Reading is fundamental

Speaking of reading core documents, reading your job description is always a good idea. This is from the Oklahoma Democrats page.
Below is an email exchange that was a call for help from State Rep. James Lockhart (D) – Heavener who requested help from his colleagues at the Oklahoma State Capitol, but was greeted with an extremely anti-education response from Rep. Mike Reynolds (R) – Oklahoma City.
Lockhart to Reynolds
Subject: Re: Our brightest students…..
No but we sure give out tax credits to a lot of companies that I question whether or not they actually need them. Over 5 billion each year! 
What we are seeing is the first generation of Americans who will earn less than the previous, be less educated, earn less and have less access to healthcare.
Basically we are doing a poor job of improving the lives of the people we represent. That is pretty clear in the fact that most people think we either don’t care about them or are unable to do something about improving their standard of living. 
I am here to try to improve the quality of life of the average person in however small a way possible. 
I would suggest you do the same
The answer, sent a day later:
It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education. It is not the responsibility of me, you, or any constituent in my district to pay for his or any other persons (sic) education. Their GPA, ACT ASAB, determination have nothing to do with who is responsible. Their potential to benefit society is irrelevant.
It's not the legislature's job to see that anyone gets an education. Hmmm. Let's look at the OK constitution and see if he's right.
Section XIII-1: Establishment and maintenance of public schools.
The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.
What do you want to bet he calls himself a "constitutional conservative."

It's Treason Appreciation Month

Or, as they call it in the Old South, Confederate Heritage and History Month. There is enough in this topic for a full month of posts (at my speed, that could mean three). Let's start by looking at the article that alerted me to this. John Avlon, a southerner by birth, wrote a good piece over at The Daily Beast. After receiving a press release from the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans celebrating the month, Avalon became curious enough to call their PR person, Ray McBerry, for more information.

But what did shock me was this quote from the press release: "So much is portrayed by Hollywood today that Georgia and the South were evil; when, in reality, the South was the most peaceful, rural, and Christian part of America before war and Reconstruction destroyed the pastoral way of life here." 
The South under slavery: "peaceful, rural, and Christian." This isn't heritage, this is wholesale historic revisionism. And it is ugly stuff.
"The way that slavery was in the Old South is not in keeping with the way it has been portrayed," McBerry insisted. 
Instead he offered up a pastoral vision of mutual respect between slave and master. 
"Many people still try to say that the war was about slavery," McBerry continued. "Nothing could be further from the truth... It was about a federal government that was out of control and imposing its will on the states--a federal government that was acting beyond the scope of the Constitution. Ironically, some of the very issues we are debating today."

Go read Avlon's piece. It's good stuff. For now, let’s take a quick look at McBerry outrageous statement that "Many people still try to say that the war was about slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth." This is nonsense. The war was about slavery. In almost every discussion of the Civil War, Confederate apologists show up to shout that it wasn't about slavery, it was about economics, it was about culture, it was about how much sugar to put in iced tea. Wrong. The Southern states seceded because of slavery. The war was fought to keep the Southern states in the Union. Therefore, the Civil War was fought over slavery.

Don't take my word for it. Let the Southerners speak for themselves through their secession resolutions.

South Carolina was the first to succeed, doing so in December 1861 as soon as the Electoral College confirmed Lincoln and the Republican Party as the winners of the election. The title of the resolution makes it clear that they intend the document to be a simple statement of the reason they are seceding "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." They use the word "causes" in the plural form so we should expect a list of the many different reasons that have led them to this drastic step. And, on reading it, we will be completely disappointed in that expectation.

The resolution is a little over 2200 words long. The first half is a little civics lesson on the Declaration of Independence and on the ratification of the Constitution laying out their argument for the legality of secession. Next, they give one reason for seceding: slavery. It's framed as several different complaints, but all of them are aspects of slavery.

Their chief complaint is that the Northern states won't enforce fugitive slave laws. Because of that one thing "these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated." Following this, they complain that Northern states allow abolitionist societies to exist and exercise their right of free speech. Next they claim that "a sectional party" hostile to slavery (the Republicans) succeeded in electing a president. Finally, they make a rather oblique comment about free Black men--"persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens"--being allowed to vote in the North.

Next up to secede was Mississippi. Their ordinance of secession is modeled on the Declaration of Independence and includes a fairly substantial list of grievances--all relating to slavery--with this introduction:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

Florida's resolution is the shortest. In one 138 word sentence, it simply says, "we quit."

Alabama's resolution gives as its reason the election of Lincoln by "by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions" of Alabama. Which domestic institutions could that be? They also invite fourteen other states to join. What do you suppose those states had in common?

Next up, Georgia. Clocking in at 3300 words, this by far the longest of the ordinances of secession. They begin their list of complaints with this sentence: "For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slaveholding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery." The Georgia resolution does make a digression away from the subject of slavery to complain about federal support for Northern manufacturing industries in the earlier part of the century through tariffs and by building lighthouses (?). After admitting that the federal government no longer does that, it coverts than fact into a slavery oriented conspiracy narrative. Lacking protective tariffs, the North decided to destroy slavery.

Louisiana followed Florida's model and passed short resolution saying simply that they were leaving the union.

Texas was the last of the pre Fort Sumter states to secede. Their resolution is a little confusing because they continually refer to the USA as the confederacy (the CSA not having been formed yet). Their list of grievances is becoming familiar by now: the Northern states won't enforce fugitive slave laws, that they allow abolitionist groups to exist, that they allow Black men to vote, and that they have succeeded in limiting the number of Western territories that could become slave states. Texas makes only one complaint that is not slave related and that is that the federal government has not done enough to fight Indians on their borders.

Six days later, the Confederate States of America was formed in Montgomery, Alabama. The conference appointed Jefferson Davis as provisional president and Alexander Stephens as vice president. In a speech given of March 21, 1861, Stephens made clear why the Confederacy had been formed: "The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." The Confederacy was founded "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

Following the establishment of the Confederacy, the remaining eight slave states took a wait and see approach to events. Arkansas held a convention on secession and voted to stay in the Union. Following the attack on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops to pull the Confederate states back into the Union, four of those eight states voted to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee all passed resolutions similar to those of Louisiana and Florida, simple legal documents stating that they were no longer part of the Union.

Arkansas had a slightly different ordinance of secession than the other states, in their pre-Sumter convention, they had drawn up a list of grievances and proposed eight constitutional amendments to deal with them in the hopes that this would preserve the Union. In their ordinance, the recalled convention stated "in addition to the well-founded causes of complaint set forth by this convention," their reason for seceding was that Lincoln had, in effect, declared war on the other slave holding states by calling up troops. What were the causes of complaint listed at the first meeting of the convention? They were the usual suspects,  the Northern states won't enforce fugitive slave laws, that they allow Black men to vote, and that they have succeeded in limiting the number of Western territories that could become slave states, and that they voted the Republicans into the White House.

Arkansas' draft amendments once again make clear that the only real issue at hand was slavery.
  1. The president and vice president should be elected alternately from slave and non-slave states.
  2. The division of territory in the West becomes permanent and any new territories gained follow that division.
  3. Congress cannot legislate on anything relating to slavery unless it is to strengthen it.
  4. The federal government must enforce fugitive slave laws and if a slave escapes, the federal government must reimburse the owner for his lost slave.
  5. The Northern states have to enforce fugitive slave laws.
  6. Slave owners shall be free to bring their slaves with them when traveling in non-slave states.
  7. No future amendments dealing with fugitive slaves or the three-fifths principal can be passed without unanimous consent of the states.
Among the four remaining slave states, the legislatures of three (Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky) voted to stay in the Union. In Kentucky, a separate convention was organized in the fall of 1861 to secede and depose the governor and legislature. The reason given for secession was that Lincoln and Congress were tyrants waging war on them. The reason for deposing the state government was that they were supporting the North and abusing martial law.

In the final slave state, Missouri, a convention at the beginning of the year voted to stay in the Union. Following Lincoln's call-up of troops, the pro-Confederacy governor, Claiborne Jackson, refused and declared neutrality. This led to a mini civil war within the state. Coups, conspiracies, and skirmishes followed. In the summer, the convention met again and voted to stay in the Union, again. In late fall, Jackson and the pro-Confederacy members of the legislature met in the far Southwest of the state and voted to secede. The primary reason they stated was that the state had been invaded under orders of the tyrannical Republicans in Washington.

To recap: among the resolutions that did list reasons for seceding, the overwhelming reason given was slavery. The only other reasons listed were the federal government not doing enough to fight Indians (TX), the federal government warring on other slave states (AR), and invasion federal troops (KY and MO). None of the resolutions mentioned big government as the problem.

The Civil War was fought over slavery.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

One year later

I was just reminded that it's been a year since my baby sister died. Sometimes, I forget and think of something I want to tease her over. Then I remember. I will always be grateful that number one sister flew me up so I could be with her. She was in a coma and we had to make the decision to unplug her. When she finally went, her husband and I were there holding her hands. All morning the hospice people and grief counselors came by and introduced themselves. Just a little before, a harpist came by and asked if she'd like to hear anything. Her husband asked if the harpist knew and Led Zepplin. She did, and she played it for us.

Bonnie McKay (1959-2012)