Thursday, April 18, 2013

The States Rights Myth Revived

I'm a proud Texan.  While I think Sam Houston was in many ways an egotist and a lousy general. His treatment of the heroic Texas Navy was reprehensible. His men forced him to fight at San Jacinto. He was something of a drunk.  But he was absolutely right about secession being wrong.

I used to have a Confederate battle flag and used to irritate my Yankee boss at summer camp by flying it all over the place as a prank. I never thought anything about it. I'm the furthest thing from a racist you'll ever find. To me the flag was a bit of Southern rebelliousness and I thought it was a pretty flag.

There has been an effort of late to argue that the Confederacy was all about states rights and not about slavery.  Well, certainly there was a lot of noise about state's rights in the early days of the war, but everyone, I thought, knew the fight was over slavery.  The states right the CSA particularly wanted was the right to own slaves.

In trying to make the argument that the Civil War was all about state's rights and had nothing to do with slavery, one of the proponents of this rehabilitation of the Confederacy disdainfully urged those who disagreed with him to " history before we say stupid things".

So I did.

First I read the Constitution of the Confederacy and found these passages:

  • Sec. 2. (I) The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired. 

  •  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. 

  •  (4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

This was pretty mild language in the actual document, but it certainly legitimized slavery and enshrined that "peculiar institution" in law.  The rhetoric in the Confederate Congress was far less polite than the constitution was.  If you want a clear view of what the Civil War was about, read this excerpt of a speech given by Alexander H. Stephens, March 21, 1861 in Savannah Georgia.  Called the "Cornerstone Speech" it makes it quite clear that the patriarchs of the South understood that the founding fathers of the United States had never supported slavery and had always intended that it would eventually fade away.  His speech makes it clear that the founding fathers of the CSA were very deliberately fighting to preserve the institution of slavery.  Here is a refreshingly honest admission of this from CSA Vice-President Stephens. It's about all the history you'll need.  Stephens tried to back off some of what he said when he ran for Governor after the war, but he never backed off the idea that the negro was inferior to the white man. Never.  Here are his own words.

  •  The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us 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. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. 
Okay, I studied the history.  The Civil War was most certainly about slavery and I can see why the Confederate Battle Flag, as beautiful as it is as flags go, is seen as a symbol of racism by black Americans.

That's why I hauled it down and raised the Texas Flag in its place.


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