Long have I pondered about how to deal with the problems of slavery and race in any discussion or symposium on the War of Secession. Should one include references to race and slavery quite apart from anything directly involved with the issue being discussed? I considered a treatise of mine on the Titanic as an allegory which reveals that there was so much more about the origins of the war than the question of slavery—just as there was so much more about the Titanic than the story of a boat and a berg. Then I pondered the “apologia” with which many begin any presentation of the Southern side pointing out how the presenter isn’t about criticizing blacks or excusing slavery etc., etc. etc., positions which seem to obtain in any attempt to bring up the facts about the War of Secession that do not reflect the current orthodoxy. It seemed to me that opening on such a note probably influences the audience to think exactly the opposite of what the presenter wants them to think and leads to the dismissal of entire effort as the ranting of racists.
Then I remembered something in a presentation of my own and that proverbial “light bulb” went off in my brain. Frankly, I believe that for once in my life, I am being brilliant with regards to the entire business of the whos, whats and whys of the war! Below is Lincoln’s quote and my comment upon it:
“Can this government stand, if it indulges constitutional constructions by which men in open rebellion against it, are to be accounted, man for man, the equals of those who maintain their loyalty to it?”
Here again, Lincoln excuses an openly unconstitutional act, the creation of West Virginia and its admission into the Union. Remember, that new state was removed unconstitutionally from the State of Virginia. As do so many amoral people, he blames Virginia, the State wronged by his actions, for pointing out the unconstitutionality of the deed. Instead of doing what a true representative of the law does—that is, follow the law—he points out that those who agree with the admission are “loyal” to the government while those who disagree are “rebels” and “insurrectionists.” But no mention is made in the Constitution about the patriotism or lack thereof of those committing an unconstitutional act or those who reject it. The act is either constitutional or it is unconstitutional; it does not stand or fall by any other criteria.
For the first time I realized that there is no reason to defend or reject the motives put forth surrounding the War! Was it about slavery? I’m sure to many—both North and South—it was. Was it about economics? Again, the same is true. Was it about religion? Culture? Corruption? Yes, yes, and yes. But the point is, we don’t have to—and shouldn’t—waste our time on any of this! There is only one criteria here as I said at the end of my comment above: “(t)he act is either constitutional or it is unconstitutional; it does not stand or fall by any other criteria.”
Secession is either constitutional or unconstitutional; the war to prevent or end secession was either constitutional or unconstitutional. It matters not what the motives involved on either side were, only the legality and constitutionality of their actions. In the middle of the 19th Century, secession was considered constitutional and therefore legal. Indeed, it took a false decision by the Supreme Court four years after the War (Texas v. White in 1869) to make secession a crime! Jefferson Davis was not brought to trial as a traitor because several federal attorneys including Richard Dana and Salmon Chase stated that Davis had committed no crime as secession was legal! So despite Lincoln’s (and the other radicals’) belief that the government created the States(!), as that was not the acceptable constitutional understanding of the matter at the time, nothing that the Southern States did was illegal no matter what motivated them to do so. On the other hand, an attack by the federal government on the States was treason according to the Constitution and no matter what motivated Lincoln and the federals that fact does not change!
So the only argument we have to make is the constitutionality of the actions of both parties. Their motives mean nothing. They neither validate nor repudiate the actions taken. Motives in these circumstances have no bearing on the legitimacy of the acts and calling something “constitutional” or, in the alternative “unconstitutional” on that basis has no meaning in law and thus, no meaning in regard to a presentation of historical facts. Concerns about the good or evil of the motives of those involved in historical actions might make a wonderful book, but it cannot be used to create a policy or an historical judgment of either side.
- Valerie Protopapas
Ulysses S. Grant’s Report on Conditions in the South – 18 December 1865:
“I am satisfied that the mass of thinking men of the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith. The questions which have heretofore divided the sentiment of the people of the two sections—slavery and state’s rights, or the right of a state to secede from the Union—they regard as having been settled forever by the highest tribunal—arms—that man can resort to. I was pleased to learn from the leading men whom I met that they not only accepted the decision arrived at as final but, now that the smoke of battle has cleared away and time has been given for reflection, that this decision has been a fortunate one for the whole country, they receiving like benefits from it with those who opposed them in the field and in council.”
Thus wrote Ulysses Grant in 1865. But if Grant was, in fact, correct, then everything decent Christian people believe is a lie. For when Grant speaks of “the highest tribunal” being arms and that the South was proven wrong because their “arms” were insufficient to protect them against the “arms” of Grant and the rest of the Union military, we hear spoken aloud and without shame—albeit in different words—that old philosophy: “might makes right!” Justice Antonin Scalia has said as much; that is, that the cause of the Confederacy—the secession of sovereign states from the old compact—was defeated and thereby rendered unconstitutional, not legally, but by force of arms! But consider what that actually means! If that is true, then Hitler was not wrong, but simply bested in war. Had he prevailed, his actions would have been legitimate. The Nazis were subject to trial and execution not by virtue of their actions, but because they could not validate them by force of arms! Do we really believe that? Do we really agree with former ambassador John Bolton, when he said that the American government killed Southern civilians during the Civil War without due process and it was the right thing to do? It is one thing to “accept the abatement of the sword” as John Mosby and other Southerners did after the war for that meant that they had been defeated and there was nothing to do but make the best of it. No other choice lay before them but sullen resentment and ultimate oblivion. But that is not the same thing as acknowledging that issues of law and morality had—or could be—be settled by military might. If force is the final arbiter, then there is no such thing as law—or morality! It is an illusion to be swept away by whichever contending party wields the greatest force! If that is so, then the Constitution was never the law of the land for true power emanates from that faction of government with the most fire-power.
A few days before Memorial Day in 2002, a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp received an email from a lady who apparently had been receiving the camp’s newsletters. Her letter was courteous, expressing her puzzlement and dismay at the tone of the SCV’s material and voicing her hope that Southerners could set aside their resentments, be good sports and “live in peace in this great country.” Her post was eventually forwarded to Roger McCredie, who had not yet joined the staff of the SLRC, but was the SCV’s immediate past Chief of Heritage Defense, and McCredie answered on his own initiative.
His answer is even more relevant now, over a decade later, as the runaway train of political correctness threatens to overrun Confederate history and heritage.
Here is McCredie’s reply:
Dear Ms. Kinley-Ruth:
You appear to be a genuinely decent and thoughtful person, and your post is doubtless well intentioned. One of your remarks deserves to be addressed in some detail. You say, “I never know whether you folks are really talking like this because it keeps the fervor going for your re-enactments or because you are still so angry, after all these years.” Because you do seem to be an empathetic person, let me try a little role-reversal on you.
Suppose that you had been born and raised in a place whose history, culture, traditions, mindsets, and values set it as much apart from the rest of the “United States” as Switzerland is from France, or Ireland from England. Suppose you loved this place, its people and your own place in it very deeply; suppose, in fact, that you were so much a part of it that it was hard to tell where you stopped and it started.
Suppose this place you cherished had once found itself at odds with other members of the Union it had helped found; had attempted peaceably and in good faith to leave that Union, in accordance with the provisions of that Union’s very own constitution; and had instead been invaded and obliged to fight a horrific war against overwhelming odds, during which its cities were looted and destroyed, its countryside ravaged, and its civilian population robbed and brutalized. Suppose that having lost that war, your homeland was further crippled by a dozen years of corrupt and vindictive military occupation called, with supreme irony, “Reconstruction.”
Suppose that this place you love subsequently became the repository for all of America’s frustrations, the object of its ridicule and cynical exploitation, and the whipping boy for its national racial guilt trip. Suppose you had to listen to the daily litany of how your homeland was a dark and backward place populated by incestuous mongoloids. Suppose you were ridiculed for your accent, and for your unabashed love of God, place, and family.
Suppose you found your history turned inside out and your heroes vilified in order to appease the professionally offended. Suppose your children were expelled from school, ostracized and even beaten for displaying the symbol their great-great-grandfathers fought under. Suppose that some municipalities where your brave dead were buried, far from home, refused to allow their graves to be decorated, even for a few hours, with the flag they died for. And suppose that when, as an American, you objected to this very un-American treatment, you were told to sit down and shut up, or be branded a racist, a white supremacist, or even un-American yourself.
That’s a great deal of supposing, I know, but try to manage it, if only for a second. Now consider your original remark in light of it. Our experience as Americans has been painfully different from yours in some respects. On the day known as Memorial Day, this difference is particularly poignant for us, when our Confederate dead are systematically excluded from national mourning. We have – or try to have – our own Confederate Memorial Days, state by state, but often these are given no official sanction. And you ask if we are angry.
Suppose you were us.
Past Chief of Heritage Defense
Sons of Confederate Veterans
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