Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Heritage of Hate

Just about anytime I see anyone celebrating the Confederacy I prepare myself for a rant. But if there is a ranking of talking-to-a-wall debates in American society, it seems that getting into an argument with those who would commemorate traitorous racists (or is it racist traitors?) ranks in the top five (number one has to be abortion, doesn't it?). In any case, Matthew Yglesias says much of what I might in deriding Confederate Heritage Month, so I'll let him take it away:
It seems that April is Confederate Heritage month. Why one would want to celebrate a heritage of violent rebellion against a democratically elected government in order to perpetuate a system of chattel slavery is a bit hard for me to say.

When I was growing up in New York City, for example, I don't remember any mass campaigns to celebrate the 1863 draft riots as the city's finest hour. The states of the Old Confederacy are hardly unique in that elements of their historical heritage involve discreditable treatment of African-Americans. But they do seem unusual in their insistence on celebrating these historical episodes and in insisting that portraying them in a positive light is integral to a proper understanding of their local identity. Even odder, as best I can tell these days (it was different in the past) most of the folks who like to wave the Confederate flag are perfectly genuine when they get offended that others see them as waving a banner of violent white supremacist ideology. But if that's not the ideology you mean to associate with, then why not drop the flag and adopt some less provocative emblem of Southern folkways?

I'll tell you one answer to that question: because it's all a house of cards, and because race is a factor in the overwhelming majority of these people's zeitgeists. Anyone who reads the secession statements of each of the states that declared war against the United States, and anyone who reads about the secession commissioners, knows exactly what the Confederacy was about. The South need not perpetually be burdened with the most shameful elements of its history except for when the region's most ardent apologists choose exactly those elements to celebrate. The question is not one of States' Rights, but rather of the States' Rights to do what?


Mike Tuggle said...

You wrote:

"Anyone who reads the secession statements of each of the states that declared war against the United States ..."

Wrong. The sovereign states peacefully seceeded, as was their right. It was Lincoln who played the role of Milosevic and established military rule over those states.

Anonymous said...

"Your one-stop shopping place for semi-informed opinions about History, Politics, Sports, Travel and Pop Culture"


Well described.

dcat said...

Really, fellas? Let's play this out. First off, the sovereign states had no right to secede, peacefully or otherwise. Second, the secession documents are all clear that slavery was front and center in their reasoning. Third, the South started the Civil War, so that sort of undermined the argument about being peaceful. Fourth the Milosevic analogy is pretty inane. But it's nice to see that the wingnut brigade is out in full force.

As for anonymous' little jab -- well played, but how, exactly, is my post "semi-informed"? If you want to bring a historical argument my way, let's do that. I'll start quoting secession statements chapter and verse. It's easy to name call. But not so easy to actually make a case for Confederate Heritage Month as anything other than a cavalcade of bigotry and regional resentment.


Anonymous said...

Now, now Dcat. When it is a Lost Cause trying to use logic and reason with Confederate sympathizers.

Instead, you should follow Michael Silver's (of Yahoo! Sports fame) approach and make fun of their poor grammar.

Seceeded? Ha-ha! It is seceded.

See? Isn't that better?

dcat said...

I'm curious to see if we get a deluge or not, anon. I cannot possibly mock anyone's spelling though, because while I can spell, I am still a losuy typist and not as fastidious an editor as I ought to be.
Nonetheless, your point is welll taken. I wonder if these people have heard of the Supremacy Clause?


Anonymous said...

OK dcat...let's see what you know-

Why did the North invade the South?

What was their motive?

dcat said...

Er, the North "invaded" the South only after the South declared war on the North. Your question is so mounumentally broad and frankly inane that it is hard to take you seriously as someone testing my knowledge. Plus, I get to know the names of the people who presume to test me. My game, my home court, my rules. (Preserving the Union seems a good start for why the North responded to the provocations of the South, by the way.)


Anonymous said...


Perhaps you can try to avoid viewing the Civil War through the prism of a war and invasion.

Why not view it like Lincoln did: as a rebellion which ultimately led to war (check out Union military policy toward the South and you will note a gradual approach to warfare which ranged from a war of conciliation to a hard war by 1864). Union troops attempted to restore order and regain control of federal property (i.e. Sumter, Pickens, etc.).

Remember that the first shots fired came from Rebel (don't you love that word?) cannon directed at Fort Sumter in April of 1861.

Lincoln, thanks to the sage advice of Assistant Secretary to the Navy, G.V. Fox, sent a humanitarian aid mission, so to speak, to reinforce Maj. Robert Anderson's beleaguered garrison.

Of course, Jefferson Davis's nascent nation could not allow that and maintain the illusion that they were already a sovereign nation. So the barrage commenced with southern folks in attendance, viewing the violence that is favorably viewed in the South.

As Lincoln called forward volunteers to suppress the rebellion, four additional southern states seceded as well. Others attempted but failed (Missouri, for instance).

Yet the main instrument in leading the call for secession was Lincoln's election in 1860. Southern reactionaries left because of what the new incoming president COULD do, not what he threatened.

As Dcat has already pointed out, slavery was the key issue for the secession commissioners, many of whom conjured images of racial wars and miscegenation (can't have that now can we?). And as Lincoln was elected on the platform of banning slavery in the territories (and not in the southern states themselves), South Carolina started to dance with treason.

As for peaceful means to leave the Union, that is all in theory. Senator John C. Calhoun (dead since 1850) and others simply interpreted it as their right that the Union was a collection of states that they could leave at any time. It was not until the Supreme Court addressed this issue in Texas v. White (1868) that secession was deemed that the Constitution did not allow states to secede.

Ironically, my native South (I was born and raised under the Rebel flag), is a region littered with U.S. and Confederate flags. Yet my fellow southerners cannot see that the South wanted to leave the Union--that many 20th century southerners cherish so deeply now (just ask Toby Keith)--and the fight those damn Yankees if need be.

dcat said...

Amen anonymous. Thank you. Well done. Of course that will do nothing to convince the unreconstructed, but sometimes you have to fight the good fight even if the other guy has no idea he is out on his feet.


Anonymous said...

What the South did is treason. Plain and simple.

They seceded over slavery and no other reason. The fired the first shots. Then they've spent the next 150 years trying to rewrite what happened to mask their disgraceful behavior.

dcat said...

Yup. I don't get the romance with that particular aspect of the South. I love the South, am a "Southern Historian," according to my bio, and yet loving something means you need to be critical where criticism is necessary.
I once saw Jim Horton, the fine historian based at George Washington University, speak on this issue, and he put it quite well: The Confederacy declared war on my country. I tend not to think highly of declaring war on my country.


Anonymous said...

Er, the North "invaded" the South only after the South declared war on the North. Your question is so mounumentally broad and frankly inane that it is hard to take you seriously as someone testing my knowledge. Plus, I get to know the names of the people who presume to test me. My game, my home court, my rules. (Preserving the Union seems a good start for why the North responded to the provocations of the South, by the way.)

And why did the North want to preserve the Union?

What was at stake for the North?

dcat said...

What, is this some attempt at Socratic dialogue? Why did the North want to preserve the Union? Why does any nation state want to preserve its territory? Look, man, the South started a war against the United States. When the South started that war against the United States, the United States really did not need to justify waging war.
Lots was at stake for the North. Is this supposed to be somehow telling?: Nation states fight wars to protect or preserve self interest. The United States had self-interest in not losing a vast swath of territory for the sake of the interests of the slave power and the white masses who went along with those interests.
Again, you have not earned the right to step in here and play penny-ante quizmeister. Your heroes committed treason. Beyond that I don't much care about hearing about the perfidy of the North. People who start fights or wars ought to be able to end them. Your people couldn't. Grandpappy and kin weren't heroes no matter how long you continue to celebrate their treasonous asses.


Anonymous said...

"Lots was at stake for the North"

Right on...and that's what the war was about-

“The shrewd men of the North are fully aware…and no doubt have already made a calculation of the profit and loss which will inure to them by a dissolution of the Union. They cannot but foresee a very large dimunition, if not an entire loss, of their Southern trade.”

Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, 28 December 1860


“…in the event of a permanent dissolution of the Union….Our commerce, whether inland or international, will suffer an almost total eclipse….The adoption by the Southern Republic of a system of free trade, or a low rate of tariff duties, will alone suffice to consummate these ends. Upon equal terms it will be difficult if not impossible to compete with the labor of Europe in the Southern market. It is only by the very large percentage in our favor furnished by our tariff, that we so far have competed successfully. When that advantage is removed, and we are left to compete on equal terms, it requires no sagacity to perceive that we shall be driven from the Southern markets with our manufactures; and our commercial and transporting interest dependent on that trade will perish also.

These things in themselves will deal a terrible blow to our prosperity; but they furnish not even one-half of the difficulties and disasters which await us. By the system of free trade, the Confederate States not only cut off our Southern trade and market, but they utterly derange our business relations at our own doors and with foreign nations…”

Chicago Times, April 1861


“The Union of the States, we fear, is permanently severed. The separation is peaceable in form, but hostile in fact. The Confederate States have adopted a nominal tariff, preparatory no doubt, to the speedy establishment of free trade. This policy is designed to overthrow the commercial and manufacturing interests of the North, and it will prove a heavy and fatal blow to their prosperity and their existence.”

Cedar Valley Times (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), 4 April 1861


“It is at this juncture of things that the ‘money power’ of the North interposes…not to propose compromise of any kind, but casting its weight in the scales on the side of the ‘anti-slavery’ Government at Washington, it hopes to crush the South into submission, and compelling it to resume its former relations with the North, to thus restore the Southern trade to this city.”

New York Day Book, 22 May 1861


“The men of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts cared as a rule very little about the ‘domestic institutions’ of the South until this war broke out. The merchants of New York were bitter partisans of slavery. But the ironmasters of Pennsylvania and the manufacturers of New England have taxed the South for their benefit so long that they cannot bear the thought of losing the power of doing so for the future. The brokers of the Empire City are furious at the prospect of seeing their lucrative trade diverted to Charleston or New Orleans, and carried on with English capital. The lust of money has had ten times more to do with the sudden patriotism of the North than their love of liberty.”

London Morning Herald, 1861


“To keep this Northern division of the continent as the field for millions of the white race to claim their natural birthright in, and exercise their energies and their talents for their own advantage and the general prosperity, it is essential that but one Government shall exercise authority from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What would this country be, broken up into pieces, and divided into different confederacies, with rival interests, and rival institutions? How could the enterprise and industry of the free North develope itself with another and rival government, based on principles so entirely opposite to free labor, limiting its expansion southwardly, and holding three-fourths of the line of the sea coast of the country in its own possession?….

To be cut off at one blow from this privilege, and to be deprived of the freedom of the coasting trade, would be ruinous to our commercial interests, and crippling to every other pursuit on which our prosperity is founded.”

Philadelphia Public Ledger, 7 June 1861


“…one of the principal reasons why the North is so resolved upon the continued vigorous prosecution of the war, is that her people now know by experience the inestimable value to them of the Southern trade….The mercantile marts of New England and the Middle States will be hopelessly ruined. Nothing can possibly save them except the recovery of that magnificent trade….the people of the North think their only chance of getting back Southern trade–or making our country evermore tributary to their growth and aggrandizement, is to conquer us, hold us as subject provinces, and compel us to resume the former channels of mercantile communication. They freely acknowledge that the war injures them terribly…”

New Orleans Bee, 21 September 1861

dcat said...

Anon --
But you miss the point, and in missing the point, you continue to show a level of obtuseness that I cannot help but think must have been willful.
The North fought the war because war was waged on the North. And so when you assert "that's what the war was about," you get it 100% wrong. The war was fought because the South wanted to fight a war. The war was "about" wghatever the South's war effort was about as the instigators of the conflict. And the historical record is clear as to why the South fought: They fought for slavery.

But let's take this on your terms (or, I should say, on the terms of the newspapers you cite, as so far you have not added a single idea to this discussion but instead have engaged in hamhanded Socratic method and an odd smattering of newspapers).

First: yes, the United States (not the North, the United States) had motivation and incentive. You couch this as if it was somehow damning. It's not at all damning, and that you think it is marks you as a rather unsophisticated thinker on matters of war, peace, and foreign policy. Countries have self interest. And once war was declared on the United States, the United States fought to protect that self interest. The only shocking aspect of this would have been had the United states not stepped in to protect its manifest interests.

But more important, why are you citing these newspapers? I'm just curious. because in an era of myriad newspapers, this all seems rather scattershot. But beyond that, it seems to me that you are using the wrong sort of evidence. Newspapers don't prove government motivation. They might make arguments, but if you are making the case as to why the United States waged war, your sources should come from the United States.

Instead you use newspapers from Cincinnati, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, New York, London, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. That last one is from the South, so let's just say that its motivations may not exactly be pure. Cincinnati, Chicago, and Cedar rapids in 1860? Hardly the places I'm going for the final word on government policy. So the question becomes, do the Philly and New York papers speak for the consensus of newspapers in their own cities? I'd take any bet in which you assert that they do. The London paper citation is just bizarre.

But again, of course the United States had interests involved here. No one has denied that -- you are arguing against a straw man (and somehow are still losing) on that front. but the important issue is that the United States, the Union, the North, fought the Civil war because the Civil war was declared on and brought to it and no backward reading of shoddy evidence is going to change that fact.