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Saturday, August 30, 2003  

Back to the past
Part II: Blogger denies slavery cause of Civil War

Central to neo-Confederate dogma is the claim that the Civil War was fought over just about anything but slavery. Our current specimen of the movement, blogger Al Barger has, unsurprisingly, expressed that view.

Re-subjugating the Confederacy to northern domination was turning out to be much bloodier and more costly than Lincoln had expected. He needed more and better reasons for northern families to give up the lives of their sons, preferably something of a moral nature. Therefore, halfway into the war he declared that it was about ending slavery. Yeah, that's the ticket!

But, though there were ancillary issues, there is no real question in regard to slavery being the proximate and predominate cause of the Civil War. The best evidence of this fact comes from the horses' mouths. The Confederates themselves stated slavery was the main reason they were seceding from the Union. South Carolina, with its huge slave population, was the first to proclaim its intention to secede and why it was doing so. It had first attempted to leave the Union in 1852.

Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations. . .The non-slaveholding States have denounced as sinful the Institution of Slavery, they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain have been incited by emissaries books and pictures to servile insurrection... The public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate Extinction.

Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball, p. 324.

That extinction of slavery was not going to be allowed to occur, either then or in the future. If the Confederate States of America had won the war, it might well have maintained overt slavery or a form of apartheid into this century, as South Africa barely fell short of doing. The enabling text of each of the 13 states articles of secession can be read here. No person reading the articles of secession of South Carolina and its cohorts can doubt the Confederates considered slavery the primary reason they were leaving the Union -- unless he is being willfully obtuse.

Barger's denial runs deep.

Again, it's tough to say entirely what the "main issue" was to "the southern states" in that there is no Southern State you can ask about her opinion. It's a whole bunch of different people with differing values and priorities.

Probably you could go through letters and find a couple of southern soldiers writing about how important it is to keep black folks in their place. I doubt you'd find very many such things though.

The vast majority of white southerners were NOT slave owners. Barring strong evidence to the contrary that I haven't seen, I find it difficult to believe that southern boys were going off to fight and die motivated by the desire to protect the rich folks' right to own slaves. Doesn't make any sense to me. Especially since there wasn't yet even any attempt by the north to emancipate the slaves. [Emphasis mine.]

That is not remotely true. The secessionists said they were leaving the Union to protect slavery from interference.

Let's consider a pretextual reason for secession offered by Barger and his allies.

A typical evasive tactic of neo-Confederates is to claim the Civil War was about tariffs. They assert the South was so burdened by tariffs it chose to rebel. The historical record proves otherwise. The organized opposition to taxes weighted against wealthy Southerners began in 1828.

In March 1833, Congress passed the Compromise Tariff, which shrank the tax rates, when [John C.] Calhoun [the former Vice President, who had resigned to show his loyalty to the South] supported the Compromise, the states' rights movement was able to claim victory." Ball, supra, at pp. 309-310.

The federal government caved in to Southern pressure in regard to tariffs long before the Civil War began.

Other revealing evidence against the neo-Confederate viewpoint is the Confederate Constitution. It unequivocally embraces slavery, with no hint whatsoever that abolition of the abominable practice is even to be considered.

Article IV

(3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

However, the Confederate Constitution does outlaw foreign importation of slaves, eliminating competition and guaranteeing maximum profit from the natural increase of slaves owned by Southerners.

Article I

Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the rationalization for slavery and the basis for declaring "the South was right" for most neo-Confederates -- Biblical justification. Their denial of the role of slavery in the Civil War is usually two-pronged:

•The War Between the States was not fought over slavery;

•Besides, there was nothing wrong with slavery. If the Yankees opposed it, they were in error.

Most neo-Confederates are deeply relgious. Among the constant demands for the head of Jesse Jackson and enshrining the Confederate flag in their forums, a visitor will notice numerous requests for prayers. There is no cognitive dissonance occuring from a neo-Confederate perspective. An esteemed Southern clergyman penned an article called "The Bible View of Slavery," which is avidly promoted at many neo-Confederate sites. John Henry Hopkins, writing in 1864, offers several reasons slavery is Biblically justified, including the story of Ham, and concludes.

The Scriptures show me that the negro, like all other races, descends from Noah, and I hold him to be a MAN AND A BROTHER. But though he be my brother, it does not follow that he is my equal. Equality can not be found on earth between the brothers even in one little family. In the same house, one brother usually obtains a mastery over the rest, and sometimes rules them with a perfect despotism. In England, the elder brother inherits the estate, and the younger brothers take a lower rank by the slavery of circumstances. The eldest son of the royal family is in due time the king, and his brothers forthwith become his subjects. Why should not the same principle obtain in the races of mankind, if the Almighty has so willed it? The Anglo-Saxon race is king; why should not the African race be subject, and subject in that way for which it is best adapted, and in which it may be more safe, more useful, and more happy than in any other which has yet been opened to it, in the annals of the world?

I know that there may be exceptions, now and again, to this intellectual inferiority of the negro race, though I believe it would be very difficult to find one, unless the intermixture of superior blood has operated to change the mental constitution of the individual. For all such cases the master may provide by voluntary emancipation, and it is notorious that this emancipation has been cheerfully given in thousands upon thousands of instances, in the majority of which the gift of liberty has failed to benefit the negro, and has, on the contrary sunk him far lower in his social position. But no reflecting man can believe that the great mass of the slaves, amounting to nearly four millions, are qualified for freedom. And therefore it is incomparably better for them to remain under the government of their masters, who are likely to provide for them so much more beneficially than they could provide for themselves.

The head of the League of the South, and other neo-Confederate leaders, hold the same beliefs as Hopkins despite the passage of time. They would prefer a return to slavery, but will settle for disenfranchisement and resegregation of nonwhites if they can get it.

Michael Hill, president of the League of the South and probably the key ideologue of the movement, calls slavery "God-ordained," while other leaders in his group defend segregation as a policy that merely preserved the "integrity" of white Southerners as a group. In North Carolina, the League recently added a new "advisor" to its list of local officials -- Steven Barry, a hard-line racist and official of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the other key group in the neo-Confederate movement, recently editorialized on its main web page about "greasy white yankee girls [who] make sure everyone notices their lust for black men." White supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons a man who was married at the Idaho compound of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations -- has become a key player for the League and most of the other neo-Confederate groups. And these are only a few telling signs of a movement that almost admits its own racism.

"Let us not flinch when our enemies call us 'racists,'" Hill wrote on a private Internet posting recently. "Rather, just reply with, "So, what's your point?'"

. . .Supporting the neo-Confederate enterprise are historical revisionists, men such as Michael Hill who, like deniers of the Holocaust, are rewriting the history of the Civil War and the South. In their view -- a view shared by virtually no serious historian -- the Civil War had almost nothing to do with slavery.

Though I suspect he will deny it, this is the tradition, one of white supremacy, Barger is speaking from.

History after the Civil War seems equally compelling as history before the Civil War in regard to this issue to me. If the South were truly a region with no race problems except those caused by meddling Yankees, why was the aftermath of the war a failed Reconstruction, the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan, lynching as an entertaining pastime, Jim Crow and violent opposition when integration became law? It seems to me those are the behaviors of a people with deep racial problems, not of folks who never had anything against blacks and fought a war over something other than maintaining slavery, as the neo-Confederates claim. I believe the history of the South is that of a region conceived in white supremacy and still enmeshed in it.

In summary, the claim the Civil War was not fought over slavery is false. But for the Southern oligarchy's perceived need to protect the peculiar institution, the war would not have occurred. The denials of modern neo-Confederates are lies meant to mislead the uninformed. They are mired in nostalgia for the past and hope of returning the country to it.

5:12 PM