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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

Ruins of Charleston, S. C., 1865
You're going to be hearing a lot about the Civil War in the next four years, fellas, as we observe the sesquicentennial of that national ordeal. South Carolina, first state to secede, kicked off the festivities this week with a full-dress Secession Ball - I'm not making this up - to honor the men who took the Palmetto State out of the Union.

And not only a Secession Ball, but also a screening of Birth of a Nation? Yup. That's South Carolina all over, boys - Tory, aristocratic, and unrepentant to the last. Your no-count, poor-white Head Trucker lived there for a painful but mercifully short time, so take my word for it.

That old Southern saw that the War was not at all in any way about slavery, nossir - oh, your Head Trucker remembers that well from his childhood, and believed it till he was past grown.

But it's pure, unadulterated bullshit.  And the men who started it did a devilish thing.

As Paul Finkelman wrote Monday in the New York Times Disunion blog:
One hundred and fifty years ago today South Carolina declared its independence from the United States. The move had been in the offing since early November, when Abraham Lincoln’s election led the state’s leaders to fear that Washington would begin to restrict slavery in the territories and in their own state. That was the proximate cause, at least; there was more to it. Beyond the election, South Carolina was no longer happy in a union with the free states, where northern opponents of slavery were allowed to openly denounce the “peculiar institution” in Congress and in their home states.

Continued after the jump . . .

It’s true, then, that South Carolina seceded over states’ rights: though, as neo-confederates are loath to admit, the specific right in question concerned the ownership of human chattel. One of the South’s persistent complaints was the northern states would not vigorously cooperate in the return of fugitive slaves and that the free states allowed antislavery organizations to flourish.

In other words, for South Carolina, slavery and states’ rights were not mutually exclusive; in fact, they were the same thing. Today too few people understand the intricate legal history that connects slavery to states’ rights — and as a result a needless debate continues, 150 years after secession began.
And Edward Ball wrote on the NYT op-ed page:
I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I’ve heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: “The War Between the States was about states’ rights. It was not about slavery.”

I’ve heard it from women and from men, from sober people and from people liquored up on anti-Washington talk. The North wouldn’t let us govern ourselves, they say, and Congress laid on tariffs that hurt the South. So we rebelled. Secession and the Civil War, in other words, were about small government, limited federal powers and states’ rights. [Note from Russ: sounds awful similar to the modern-day Republican platform, don't it? There's a reason for that.]

But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.

South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”

Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. ... There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.”

Georgia: “A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.”

Several states single out a special culprit, Abraham Lincoln, “an obscure and illiterate man” whose “opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” Lincoln’s election to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that “the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”

In other words, the only state right the Confederate founders were interested in was the rich man’s “right” to own slaves.
Still not convinced? Here's the "Cornerstone Speech" by Alex Stephens himself, Vice-President of the Confederacy, given at Savannah on March 21, 1861, in which he compares the newly drafted Confederate Constitution with the old United States Constitution:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution, African slavery as it exists amongst us, [and] the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.

But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time.

The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, 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 normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
And just for good measure, the Texas Declaration of Causes:
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States. . . .

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.

By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.
Well, why am I running on about this? Just trying to do a small public service. It's important to remember clearly, and not be misled by false claims. Whether about the Civil War or slavery or about the issues of our own time.  Whether made by Democrats in 1860 or by Republicans in 2010.

And I confess it has been a rather startling thing for me to realize, as I have in the last few years, how very little American society has changed in the course of our history. Fashions in dress and speech and manners change unendingly, but the very same types of folks who defended slavery, and were hot to acquire an overseas empire, and were staunch isolationists and rabid anti-communists, and opposed the civil rights movement, and supported the Moral Majority . . . are the very same types who have fought against the repeal of DADT tooth and claw, right down to the final vote, and are still sputtering and raging about it.

The more things change - the more they stay the goddamn same.

P.S. - Before you Northern boys get all smug and proud about the Civil War . . . just how did your ancestors treat the poor Indians, hmm? And the Irish, and the Italians, and the Chinese, and the Mexicans, and the Japanese? Your heritage is not so sparkly-clean either, bud.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

Which is the long, sad, tragic story of the human race, in all times and places, and which continues even now, this very moment, here in our midst. But knowledge of sin provides the opportunity for repentance and amendment of life - and you can take that metaphorically instead of theologically, if you please.

Just sayin'.


Mareczku said...

Thanks for this. It is very interesting. I have a History degree and I am impressed. The Texas Declaration of Causes was sure creepy. What arrogance! I still remember the line from one unionist when South Carolina succeeded, "South Carolina is took small to be a republic and too big to be a lunatic asylum."

Russ Manley said...

Grin. Yes, that's a good one. And still so very true.

FDeF said...

Also too big to drive around on the way to Florida.

Russ Manley said...

That's why you need some Confederate flag stickers on your car when you go thataway. Think of it as a little insurance . . . . Grin.

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