Saturday, April 06, 2013

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.


Unknown said...

Interesting blog entry. I always suspected that "it wasn't about slavery" was just a mental dodge. Just a couple of carps.

1. I think you have used succeeded in some places where you meant seceded.

2. The two letter code for Missouri is MO.

hogarth said...

Please go back and proofread your work. From the piece: "Next, they give one reason for succeeding:" [sic]. I know you meant "seceding", but it makes you look like you don't care what you actually wrote when you use the wrong term.

dean said...

I left this on Greg Laden's blog after he had linked to this entry. He suggested I ask you, so:
I remember learning, in grade school (60s), junior high, and in high school (a very good sequence of history classes on American/World history using sources domestic and foreign, four semesters junior through senior year) that the desire to maintain slavery, for personal, economic, and a variety of other reasons, was the top driving force in the secession of the Southern states. This was reflected in writings by Americans and the European sources we read. I won’t be so naive to think that we read all possible sources, but the agreement in idea was very convincing. The “states rights” stuff was discussed and, to me at least, thoroughly dismissed.
So when, since the mid 70s, did the chatter about this get so loud that the folks who buy it is measurably large?

Greg Laden said...

The secret reason we bloggers blog is for the free proofreading.

Pascal said...

@Lee Witt:
Being a foreigner, I cannot argue on the inner-US-discussion.

However, from my point of view, it seems the arguement other/more important reasons led to the civil war than to fight slavery stems from a critical stance towards the US and their claims to pursue democracy when engaging in (foreign) conflicts.
Arguably, from the 1970ies on, an unholy alliance had formed, joining southern revisionist and progressive political activists in their effort to criticize the status quo. However, whereas former tryied to white-wash, latter fought white men's dominance. One generation later, the different lines of argument blurred.

Does this sound reasonable?

Schenck said...

Pascal, no your argument that modern US interventionism is a carry over of southern-anti-federalism/the confederacy doesn't really hold water. First, it's a long long line from the civil war to the iraq war. And while Bush was governor of texas, his family are from the northeast, "Boston Bhramins", like the Kerry and Kennedy families (and note Pres. Kennedy also invaded a foreign country with democracy promotion goals). It's also generally agreed that the Iraq/Afghan wars are Republican issues, not Democrat ones (though Obama, as a Democrat, did invade Libya and intervenes in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf, but I think you'd have a hard time claiming Obama inherits much from the slavers).

Many of the anti-integration/pro-segregation southerners during the civil rights era joined the republican party as the Dixiecrats, but I don't think you can make a case that the Dixicrat republicans were interventionist republicans.
OTOH, the neo-conservative republicans were themselves often former democrats. Southern Republicans of the type you're talking about I suspect tend more towards isolationism than interventionism.

Lee Witt:

I suspect that part of the "it's a states rights thing" is a backwards projection from the civil rights (not civil war) era, the southerners resisted integration as a federal over-reach, and they later started to project that onto the civil war itself. Give that idea a decade or so to spread from the south and it matches your timeline I think.

Colin Bartlett said...

The other problem linking a pro-Confederate stance with an isolationists stance is that the Confederacy, and citizens promoting the slave-plantation political/economic system, were themselves very openly vocal about a desire to make an Empire: