CHARLOTTESVILLE, THE NEW CONFEDERACY, AND THE CIVIL WAR
The statues of Confederate heroes of “The War Between the States” or “The Rebellion” are not really the driving force behind the battles in this country surrounding those antique pieces of metal. They, like Trump, are symbols of a cultural struggle in this nation.
Disputes over these Civil War monuments, such as that in Charlottesville, just serve (like the president) as focal points that entice our modern-day white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, neo-fascist militias, and other assorted white supremacists out into the open.
The members of Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, and other white supremacist groups don’t really give a damn about a statue of Bobby Lee. They just want to revel in the opportunity to hang out with other rightist creeps who look a lot like them, maybe knock together the heads of some people who don’t look like them, and get their share of any media sunshine that comes along.
But, the KKK and other Southrons do care about these monuments. The fact that they remain in place constitutes a validation of The New Confederacy or Lost Cause arguments about the civil war. This movement takes two things as proven facts, when they are really both articles of faith. These refer to the right to secede and the argument that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.
The spokesmen for the ‘New Confederacy” argue that the secession involved an agriculturally-based southern region’s cry for freedom from a voraciously intrusive industrialized north that wanted to dominate national politics and the national economy.
The “Right” to Secede
As for the argument that the States had a right to secede, the Declaration of Independence speaks of “these united colonies,” and it was not until the Second Continental Congress (an organ of those united colonies) that colonies became “states.” One should add to that the first major sub-heading of the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the Constitution, was “ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION AND PERPETUAL UNION.” The US Constitution then went on “…to form a more perfect union…,” which would seem to make that perpetual union more perfect.
But, it is true that someone somewhere, frequently a politician, in the nation is usually rattling on, or at least whispering, about secession. There was talk of the northeastern states seceding and joining Canada during the War of 1812. The Nullification Crisis, which came to a head with Congress authorizing President Andrew Jackson to use Federal troops to enforce Federal law in South Carolina in the 1830s, smacked of intimations of secession.
Just recently, the American Legion Boys State of Texas voted that Texas secede from the Union. We wait with bated breath to see if Girls State follows suit. Basically, whoever is at some moment dissatisfied with the direction that the Federal government is taking bandies about the word “secession.
The Civil War Wasn’t About Slavery
Surprisingly, this argument has played relatively well with the American people. As the Civil War Trust noted:
In 2011, at the outset of the sesquicentennial, a Pew Research Center poll found that Americans were significantly divided on the issue, with 48% saying the war was “mainly about states’ rights,” 38% saying the war was “mainly about slavery,” with the remainder answering “both equally” or “neither/don’t know.
It’s true that many northerners were wildly racist. It’s true that Lincoln came into office with no real intent to free the slaves in the southern states. It’s true that most Southrons who voted for secession did not own slaves. It is true that many people’s attitudes about slavery (e.g., Grant and Lincoln) changed during the war, either because of enlightenment or some attempt to obtain political advantage.
Much of that seem to make the “not about slavery” argument sustainable, if it weren’t for a few other facts.
- If you look at any state’s articles of secession, then there can be no mistake. They were pissed that someone might try to deprive them of their “property” or their opportunity to create more slave states in the new territories.
- In four of the states that joined the CSA, they appended a “declaration of causes.” In three of those four, a majority of the words in the document relate to slavery. For example, the first substantive sentence in the declaration of causes by Mississippi is very clear: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”
- Also, the states left the Union in almost exactly the order of the proportion of their population who were slaves ― highest went first, and so on.
Finally, and to me most telling, in the Reconstruction period, the basic drive of southerners was to regain political and economic dominance over newly-freed slaves. The Black Codes quickly passed by state legislatures in the South during the early years of Reconstruction basically re-invented slavery. Every male of color had to have a contract to work for a (white) landowner. That landowner could discipline his workers in any way he saw fit. Any man of color without a contract was jailed for vagrancy and his labor sold by the local sheriff.
People of color were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, The Knights of the White Camelia, and a variety of other terrorist organizations composed largely of southern veterans of the Civil War. When freedmen tried to band together to form their own communities, these were systematically destroyed by these terrorists.
These same groups drove down black political participation in southern elections. In 1868, roughly 400,000 freedmen voted. In 1876, estimates imply that over 250,000 freedmen were driven away from the ballot boxes in the South thru a variety of stratagems involving violence and intimidation.
Yes, it was indeed a sectional conflict and had major economic undertones, but if anyone should doubt the most basic element of the American Civil War, then they would do well to remember the 1868 party convention slogan of the Democratic party, which largely represented the South. It was both simple and direct ― “It’s a White Man’s Country; Let White Men rule.”
I find it hard to see where that differs from the slogans chanted by those in the torchlight parade in Charlottesville, VA ― “You will not replace us; Jew will not replace us!”
It is the same old bitter wine in a more modern bottle. The one major exception comes in that the monument dispute has attracted not only those KKK members who wish the South had won the war, but the dispute brings other white supremacists, Nazis, and militias crawling out of the dark.
The argument that taking down the monuments to Rebel heroes means that we must take down all monuments to those who owned slaves is specious. The current president harangued reporters with “Do you like George Washington? Do you like Thomas Jefferson? They were slave holders.” Such questions represent a tremendous distortion of history. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson built this nation; Lee and the likes of Stonewall Jackson were basically traitors who tried to destroy this nation. Only someone who is supremely ignorant of our history would try to make such an argument.
That American heritage that the president and so many in this nation (62% in recent poll) want to maintain in the form of monuments of Rebel “heroes” is not really something of which, as a nation, we should be proud.