Saturday, May 20, 2017

Confederacy Redux

Recently, in the South people have begun removing some noted Confederate monuments from places of honor.  There are so many of these though that it would take forever to do it. Some US federal institutions are named after Confederates. It's important to remember that the Civil War was started by Southern white supremacists who feared that Northern whites were insufficiently dedicated to the twin causes of black slavery and white supremacy. So the South tried to break apart from the United States. The South started the bloodiest war ever experienced by the United States. Ironically, in their desire to defend and expand their right to own, whip, rape, exploit and murder black people, the Confederacy ineptly but fortunately brought about slavery's demise earlier than otherwise would have been the case. 

With the exception of the honest white supremacist, many present day defenders of Confederate monuments, flags and namesakes do not like to admit what it is they are actually defending. The United States is not a white man's country. Black people actually do have rights that white men and women must respect. And despite Kris Kobach's best efforts Black people get to vote. How about that? All of this was anathema to Confederates, then and now. For Confederates blacks were slaves. Period. End of story. There was a Supreme Court decision which established that blacks had no rights whites needed to respect. How much more clear does someone need to be. At its core the Civil War wasn't about tariffs or balance of powers between the Federal government and states. It was about enslavement and exclusion. This isn't a modern revisionist idea.

Blissfully unencumbered by any political niceties, after all they were about to start shooting people, Confederate politicians detailed for posterity their purpose in seceding. If we weren't living in a post-truth society this evidence would prevent particularly malevolent or obtuse people from arguing that the Civil War from the South's POV wasn't about slavery and white supremacy.

Texas Secession Statement

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, Confederate VP

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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.

South Carolina Secession Statement

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.

Judah Benjamin, US Senator, later Confederate Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of War

The wrongs under which the South is now suffering, and for which she seeks redress, seem to arise chiefly from a difference in our construction of the Constitution. You, Senators of the Republican party, assert, and your people whom you represent assert, that, under a just and fair interpretation of the Federal Constitution, it is right that you deny that our slaves, which directly and indirectly involve a value of more than four thousand million dollars, are property at all, or entitled to protection in Territories owned by the common Government. 

What may be the fate of this horrible contest, no man can tell, none pretend to foresee; but this much I will say: the fortunes of war may be adverse to our arms; you may carry desolation into our peaceful land, and with torch and fire you may set our cities in flames; you may even emulate the atrocities of those who, in the war of the Revolution, hounded on the blood-thirsty savage to attack upon the defenceless frontier; you may under the protection of your advancing armies, give shelter to the furious fanatics who desire, and profess to desire, nothing more than to add all the horrors of a servile insurrection to the calamities of civil war; you may do all this---and more, too, if more there be---but you never can subjugate us; you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!

And so on. Blah, blah, blah. But you get the idea. No country for black men (women). Most people, Pat Buchanan, Robert Spencer and other racists not withstanding, would not agree with these reasons today. But most white supremacists reject the idea of black citizens with equal rights living within the United States. So for them the Confederacy is a tight political fit. Black Americans as a group have only been full citizens since roughly the last forty years of the 20th century. Why is that? It's because the South, having lost the war, proved that as I said what animated them wasn't tariffs or taxes or social welfare programs or weak national government. Post war white southerners didn't try to establish a spirit of brotherhood with black Americans. No. The unifying force among white Southerners of both genders and all classes was a hatred for black people and a desire to keep blacks as non-citizens to the extent legally possible. And white southerners did just that for as long as they could. Think about that. A hundred years after the Civil War's end white southerners were still fighting hard to keep blacks in subordinate status. That is an incredible level of hatred. Many of those Confederate statues were installed post-Reconstruction to celebrate the restoration of white supremacy throughout the South. Some actually had loving paeans to white supremacy engraved on them. 

Regardless of what you may think about the right or wrong of removing this specific statue or renaming that particular school, remember that anyone who tries to tell you that the Confederacy wasn't about slavery and white supremacy is, as the saying goes, either an idiot or thinks you are. American history is messy. We can't change the past or ignore it. But we can choose what to learn from the past. We can decide which people we want to honor. And we can say slavery is evil.
Declaration of Causes of Seceding States
Judah Benjamin Speech
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