Sunday, June 21, 2015

Take it Down, Pt 2

Yesterday, on my Facebook page, we had a spirited debate about the proper place for the Confederate flag. I support the removal of the flag from all SC government buildings. It is not a flag that should still be displayed on government property; its proper place is in a museum.

The issue of slavery was, of course, broached in the debate. It is really impossible to discuss the Civil War without discussing the topic of slavery, the white (supremacist) elephant in the room. The discussion led to the oft-repeated line that the Civil War was not fought over slavery at all, but rather over states’ rights and the federal government’s interference with states’ sovereignty. I think many of the folks that make this claim counter that saying the Civil War WAS fought over slavery are simply race-baiting in a discussion that should not involve race at all.

So I did some research. I saw a tweet that linked to the text of the Cause of Secession drafted by the State of South Carolina to justify the state’s decision to secede from the Union, adopted December 24, 1860. I went and read it. You should, too. It is both interesting and enlightening.

South Carolina, the first state to secede, denounces the Union’s inability and unwillingness to maintain its end of the compact agreed upon at the creation of the United States of America and the enacting of its Constitution. South Carolina decries the Union’s interference in SC’s internal affairs and states that the US government has become hostile to its right of sovereignty.

Te very first sentence of the statement reads as follows:

“The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union…”

So there you have it. FIRST LINE. The Civil War was implicitly and explicitly fought over States’s rights, NOT slavery. The rest of the document continually refers back to the Union's repeated breaches of contract. Pretty clear cut sentiments about SC's right to leave if the contract (in this case, the Constitution) has been violated.

Except…the authors of the text then immediately said THIS in the second half of the first paragraph:

“…but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” [Emphasis mine.]

Slavery mentioned in the FIRST paragraph. Maybe that's just mentioned for the point of clarity?

Nope. Throughout the entire statement, the authors don’t hold back in talking about their right to own slaves, which is odd since the war is not supposed to be about slavery. Only the race-baiters bring up slavery in regards to the Civil War, right?

Here's a few choice selections for you to peruse (edited for this post, but the full text is available HERE):

“…The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due…This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made…

…But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution…

…In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution…

Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation…”

And here’s where the point is driven home most clearly [bold emphasis mine]:

“…We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted 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…

…A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens
; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety…

…The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief

That’s a lot of ink spilt about protecting slavery for a war that evidently had nothing to do with.

We can dress our debates up in legalese, we can talk in broad strokes about sovereignty and state’s rights and so forth, but we cannot decouple the Civil War from slavery. South Carolina seceded from the Union and fought a treasonous war because their ability to own other humans as slaves was threatened, and they were pissed that other states were no longer willing to tolerate the existence of such a system in the Union. These are not my words. The words are THEIRS. If we truly want to honor history, stop revising their rationale for the war and recognize it for what it was. Yes, the South fought because their way of life was threatened and was becoming untenable in the Union. But not because the North suddenly became the villain; their way of life was threatened because it was based upon evil, and their enemy was not the North, but rather truth and the harsh light of justice. 

I'm not trying to demonize our Southern forefathers. You must judge those who came before us in their own context to understand history. But that doesn't validate injustices or excuse actions committed in the past in support of terrible deeds. The Confederate flag that was carried into battle to defend this system has no place of honor anywhere in our society other than in a museum. Take down this flag. Remember our past, but let's move forward and not be beholden to the mistakes of our ancestors.


Laura's Husband said...

Well researched. Well written. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

I ought to have better sense; but...My view should please no one; but I'm far from the only one to hold to it. Secession WAS over slavery. It was a shameful institution, and a shameful issue to secede over. But: The WAR was not over slavery; the war was over state sovereignty. That is why so many southern military leaders did not cast their lot with the Confederacy until Lincoln called for troops, and made it plain he intended to invade Virginia, etc. R.E. Lee thought of himself, first, as a citizen of Virginia; he said so; many others also said so.

I use the word "invade" advisedly; because it is difficult for modern Americans, accustomed to States being nothing more than political conveniences, to grasp, internalize, that in 1861 they were thought of entirely differently. To those men and women, their State much more closely corresponded to our concept of nation. That is why, to repeat a well-known fact, before the war the phrase was, "The United States ARE"; after the war, it became, "The United States IS."

I can't think of a great analogy, but maybe the United Nations could serve, somewhat, vis a vis the US. If the UN were to vote and decree, "United States, your failure to have a proportionate number of women in Congress [pick your own issue] is unacceptable ; you must change it forthwith." And if the US were to then say, "We will not; we are withdrawing from the UN." And if the UN then assembled an army to invade the US, and bring us back into the UN by force--that might be an imperfect analogy to the casus belli of the Civil War.

So, in my view, both sides are correct, in their proper spheres. The cause of secession was slavery. The cause of war was invasion. There; that should please no one...

David Roemer said...
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