It seems to me that we are witnessing a resurgence of Neo Confederate sentiment in the news and around the country in recent months. The most recent and high profile example is when Robert McDonnell issued a proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month. Obviously this is a very touchy subject, but I think we should take the time to revisit US history of that time period and understand the complexities of the Lincoln administration. I believe this is the most misunderstood period of American history and the one most subject to revisionist impulses by modern historians. Now, obviously given modern connotations of the Confederate flag and racial tensions that exist, modern Neo-Confederates are almost unanimously considered to be racists. Furthermore, many people who express even the slightest support for the ideas of succession, interposition, nullification or any State’s Rights are frequently vilified as racists. To state first, I know nothing about Robert McDonnell. He absolutely should have first and foremost denounced slavery before advancing any notion of revisiting Confederate history. But I don’t know whether or not he is a racist. I DO know that many people who are absolutely NOT racists are vilified by this term for their desire to use the tools of State’s Rights to combat what many see as unconstitutional federal laws and an increasingly belligerent, hostile Federal Government that is less and less responsive to the will of the people. The purpose of this thread is to show the ignorance of most people to the true history of the Civil War and its implications. Without further ado, lets get into it:
1. The Founders were overwhelmingly against slavery and desired to create a nation that respected freedom for all men. That is why they put “all men are created equal” in the Constitution. Unfortunately, slavery was such an integral part of the economy (as it was in most of the world) they were not able to abolish it at the time of the Revolution. They fully expected that slavery would be phased out in a peaceful and orderly fashion.
In 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first antislavery society. John Jay was president of another similar society in New York. When William Livingston, singer of the Constitution and governor of New Jersey, heard of the New York society, he wrote:
“I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and… I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity… May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”
As you can see, the Founders opposition to slavery went beyond words. Many participated in concrete action supporting abolishing slavery. Other founders who were actively involved in these societies included: Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more.
As if I haven’t already made my point, I offer a few more quotes to show the Founders views on slavery:
“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].”
“[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known… [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.”
“[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.”
“Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity… It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men.”
There are many many more such quotes. It is important to note that the actions of the founders translated into tangible victories for the Abolitionists. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780. Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784. New Hampshire did in 1792. Vermont in 1793, New York in 1799, and New Jersey in 1804. This was the manner in which the founders advocated abolishing the institution they so despised. They would be horrified and appalled at the notion that a powerful central government is claimed to be justified in the name of freedom. They correctly believed that allowing the central government to grab unconstitutional power, even in the name of eliminating something so immoral as slavery, would in the long run be an affront to EVERYONE’S liberties, over time effectively making us all slaves to an all powerful state.
**2. The Civil War was not fought over slavery. It was fought to destroy the original intent of the Constitution and to establish a much more powerful central government in violation of the Founders wishes. It was also fought over economic concerns. **
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that”
The greatest motivation was to destroy the founders vision of the country, abolishing the notion of succession. Lincoln wasn’t a great man, he was a tyrant. If someone were to ask the question, “Which president committed the most unconstitutional acts as president?”, the answer would be Lincoln, by a country mile. Lincoln caused a war that killed more than 650.000 Americans, more than all other wars combined. But wait, you are probably saying, didn’t the Confederacy fire the first shots at Fort Sumter? Yes, but Lincoln made a significant attempt to provoke the south to fire the first shot, refusing the many opportunities he had to prevent such a violent outcome. The confederates had sent peace commissioners to Washington to offer to pay the Souths portion of the national debt. Furthermore, Napoleon the Third of France offered to broker a compromise. Yet, Lincoln refused to see any of them. He was determined to go to war. Lincoln promised not to send warships to Fort Sumter, even as he gave the orders for them to approach. Noted historian Shelby Foote wrote that, “Lincoln had maneuvered [the Confederates] into the position of having either to back down on their threats or else to fire the first shot of the war.” After Fort Sumter, Lincoln wrote to his naval commander Gustavus Fox thanking him for provoking the reaction he was looking for:
“You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail, and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result.”
The abuses of the Constitution, the laws of morality, and the flat out illegal activity engaged in by Lincoln and his army are almost unfathomable to us today. Lincoln’s soldiers and agents raped women, burnt courthouses, burnt homes and destroyed and robbed banks. Lincoln locked up over 3000 newspaper reporters in the North because they published articles that were critical of him.
After Lincoln died, the Supreme Court unanimously condemned what he did.
Lincoln gave absolutely no thought to the notion of slavery as a cause for the war. In fact, up to that point, the Abolitionist movement was gaining steam and there were several court challenges that claimed that the Constitution already made slavery illegal and made clear the founders opinion on the subject. There was an amendment proposed to the Constitution called The Corwin Amendment which was pushed by defenders of slavery which contained this language:
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”
Thus, this amendment would have explicitly established that the federal government was complicit in allowing slavery to continue unhindered. Lincoln supported this Amendment! Robert E Lee opposed this Amendment. Robert E Lee was a devout Abolitionist who opposed slavery on moral and religious grounds. A few quotes of his:
“There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”
“Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?”
These views reflected a significant and growing southern movement opposed to slavery for moral and religious reasons. Why, then would Lee proceed to lead an army in support of the institution? The answer is, he didn’t. Robert E Lee retired his position in the United States Army because he couldn’t stand to watch any army, especially the Union army trample and destroy his beloved Virginia.
Thus many got involved in one side or another for various reasons. There were abolitionists who supported the South. There were racist slave owners in the North. The truth of that period of time was that the Abolitionist movement was gaining strength and there were members throughout every state. However, the lasting result of that war was that the Southerners were universally demonized and blamed for slavery, when there is plenty of blame to go around. The tragedy is that the result of this war has been an ever more divided country and lingering racism and bigotry that continues to this day. The lingering pain and harm caused by using a barbaric method (war) to deal with a problem which could have and should have been resolved peacefully is incalculable. Next time you feel the need to denigrate the South for all the problems of slavery, you should stop and reconsider history and acknowledge the racism and prejudice prevalent in the North in that time. Speaking of which…