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“Why Do People Believe Myths About The Confederacy?”: Because Our Textbooks And Monuments Are Wrong

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley once said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as the Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done and why. The resulting mythology took hold of the nation a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest, as Michele Bachmann did in 2011, that slavery was somehow pro-family and why the public, per the Pew Research Center, believes that the war was fought mainly over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation they spread, which has manifested in our public monuments and our history books.

Take Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede. Early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won parts of Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Maryland, which did not secede, sent 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, but it also sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Still, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”

In fact, the thin gray line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Robert E. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. It didn’t. Instead, Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early ransomed $200,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to about $3 million today. But Frederick now boasts a Confederate memorial, and the manager of the town’s cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

Neo-Confederates didn’t just win the battle of public monuments. They managed to rename the war, calling it the War Between the States, a locution born after the conflict that was among the primary ways to refer to the war in the middle of the 20th century, after which it began to fade. Even “Jeopardy!” has used this language.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded over states’ rights. Yet when each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended the delegates: “Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.” Governments there had exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some no longer let slave owners “transit” across their territory with slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for — white supremacy:

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.

Despite such statements, neo-Confederates erected monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1963, claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights provided the Palmetto State’s creed. In 1963, however, its leaders did support states’ rights; politicians tried desperately that decade to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.

So thoroughly did this mythology take hold that our textbooks still stand history on its head and say secession was for, rather than against, states’ rights. Publishers mystify secession because they don’t want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales. Consider this passage from “The American Journey,” probably the largest textbook ever foisted on middle school students and perhaps the best-selling U.S. history textbook:

The South Secedes

Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it already existed. Nevertheless, many people in the South mistrusted the party, fearing that the Republican government would not protect Southern rights and liberties. On December 20, 1860, the South’s long-standing threat to leave the Union became a reality when South Carolina held a special convention and voted to secede.

The section reads as if slavery was not the reason for secession. Instead, the rationale is completely vague: White Southerners feared for their “rights and liberties.” On the next page, the authors are more precise: White Southerners claimed that since “the national government” had been derelict ” — by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal rights in the territories — the states were justified in leaving the Union.”

“Journey” offers no evidence to support this claim. It cannot. No Southern state made any such charge against the federal government in any secession document I have ever seen. Abraham Lincoln’s predecessors, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. For 10 years, the federal government had vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. Buchanan supported pro-slavery forces in Kansas even after his own minion, territorial governor and former Mississippi slave owner Robert Walker, ruled that they had won an election only by fraud. The seven states that seceded before Lincoln took office had no quarrel with “the national government.”

Teaching or implying that the Confederate states seceded for states’ rights is not accurate history. It is white, Confederate-apologist history. “Journey,” like other U.S. textbooks, needs to be de-Confederatized. So does the history test we give to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Item No. 74 asks them to “name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then gives three acceptable answers: slavery, economic reasons and states’ rights. (No other question on this 100-item test has more than one right answer.) If by “economic reasons” it means issues with tariffs and taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers” are wrong.

The legacy of this thinking pervades Washington, too. The dean of the Washington National Cathedral has noted that some of its stained-glass windows memorialize Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. There’s a statue of Albert Pike, Confederate general and reputed leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, in Judiciary Square.

The Army runs Fort A.P. Hill, named for a Confederate general whose men killed African American soldiers after they surrendered; Fort Bragg, named for a general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent; and Fort Benning, named for a general who, after he helped get his home state of Georgia to secede, made the following argument to the Virginia legislature:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction . . . that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. . . . If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. . . . By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. . . . The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile Earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.

With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about and our Army honoring Southern generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until recently. We can see the impact of Confederate symbols and thinking on Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a Charleston, S.C., church, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a neo-Confederate T-shirt showing Abraham Lincoln and the words “Sic semper tyrannis.” When white students in Appleton, Wis. — a recovering “sundown town” that for decades had been all white on purpose — had issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the ready.

Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in prompting the Civil War marginalizes African Americans and makes us all stupid. De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it will be a momentous step in that direction.

 

By: James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont; The Washington Post, July 1, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, Slavery | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Beyond A Little Tone-Deaf”: Pat Buchanan Warns Of Another Civil War; The Time Of Mass Right-Wing Civil Disobedience Is At Hand

In his latest column at WorldNetDaily, paleoconservative commentator Pat Buchanan argued that given the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the state capitol grounds, a “rebellion” unlike any seen since the Civil Rights Movement “is likely to arise from the right.”

Buchanan situated this “coming era of civil disobedience” in a long tradition that began with the Founding Fathers. “What else was our revolution but a rebellion to overthrow the centuries-old rule and law of king and parliament, and establish our own?” he asked.

“U.S. Supreme Court decisions have been defied and those who defied them lionized by modernity,” he added without noting that the positions his civilly disobedient activists would support wouldn’t be “lionized by modernity,” given that they’re based on the teachings of a man who — if he ever even lived — has been dead for 2,000 years.

Buchanan connected the coming struggle with the Civil Rights Movement — in particular, with Martin Luther King, Jr., whose “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he quoted. “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” King wrote, to which Buchanan replied, “what is an ‘unjust law’?”

Apparently, they are the ones that atheistic liberals have yet to write, but most certainly will in the coming years. “Laws will be passed to outlaw such practices [like refusing to perform a same-sex wedding] as discrimination,” Buchanan wrote, “and those laws, which the Christians believe violate eternal law and natural law, will, as Dr. King instructed, be disobeyed.”

For all his high talk about morality — especially as it pertains to racial injustice — Buchanan was a little tone-deaf as to a certain issue of current import: the causes of the Civil War. “That war was fought,” he wrote, “over whether 11 Southern states had the same right to break free of Mr. Lincoln’s Union as the 13 colonies did to break free of George III’s England.”

He concluded by saying that a similar separation is on the horizon. “If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart,” he explained, “the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways.”

“Something like that is happening in the country. A secession of the heart has already taken place in America, and a secession, not of states, but of people from one another, caused by divisions on social, moral, cultural and political views and values, is taking place.”

 

By: Eric Kaufman, Salon, July 10, 2015

July 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Civil War, Pat Buchanan | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confederate Flag Treated Like Fallen Hero”: Many Still Miss The Point Of What The Confederacy Stood For

In June, the South Carolina Highway Patrol honor guard carried the mortal remains of the murdered Sen. Clementa Pinckney up the State House steps and into the rotunda.

Members of the honor guard flanked the open coffin, spit polished and erect, eyes straight ahead in a silent show of respect as thousands of mourners filed past. A black cloth had been draped over one of the windows to spare anyone who might be offended by the Confederate battle flag flying out front.

A bill called the Heritage Act passed in this very building prevented the flag from being lowered even to half-staff, much less taken down without a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

But on Thursday, the legislature voted to do just that and set a 24-hour deadline on having it done.

On Friday, the honor guard returned, this time to lower the Confederate battle flag, which had been designed by William Porcher Miles, a onetime mayor of Charleston who had been a prominent “fire-eater,” as the most ardent proponents of slavery and secession leading up to the Civil War were called.

The honor guard had performed countless other ceremonies, but this one was a little different. And they had not been given much time to work out exactly how it should go.

The flag was being taken down in the first place because it was seen by many people—African-Americans in particular—as a hateful symbol of slavery and oppression. Some rightly view it as a shameful banner of treason.

But it had been hoisted there in the first place because it is viewed by others—none of them African-Americans—as a symbol of an idealized heritage and history.

And the very fact that the honor guard had been chosen to lower it was an implicit nod to those people.

At the appointed time on Friday morning, the guard went about lowering the flag with the same ritualistic respect as it would with the Stars and Stripes.

Two of the officers took the lowered banner in their white gloved hands.

And for a moment, it seemed as if they might fold it as they would an American flag that had covered the coffin of a fellow cop or a U.S. solider who had made the supreme sacrifice.

Instead, they rolled it, presumably an echo of the way Confederate regiments furled their battle flags in surrender at the end of the Civil War.

A black sergeant was the one who then took the furled banner. He had done this at American flag ceremonies where race was not issue, but it was hard to believe that he had been chosen by chance in this instance.

He seemed to be an attempt to compensate for the bigotry associated with what he now carried so solemnly over to the State House steps. The director of the South Carolina Relic Room and Military Museum waited to receive it.

For a second, truly terrible moment, the ritual was too much like that performed when the flag from a hero’s coffin is presented to a grieving loved one along with the words, “On behalf of a grateful nation.…”

Thankfully, the sergeant uttered not a word. The director, Allen Roberson, was also silent as he took the furled flag.

“Nothing was said,” Roberson later told The Daily Beast. “I felt like that was appropriate.”

Roberson was escorted up into the State House.

“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t trip when I was carrying the flag,” he recalled.

He then descended to the basement, where an armored car was waiting to transport the flag to the museum.

Upon arriving, Roberson brought the flag in through a back door. The flag was unrolled, smoothed and carefully folded.

“So it wouldn’t crease,” Roberson said.

The museum’s registrar, Rachel Cockrell, and an intern named John Faulkenberry placed it in an “acid-free textile storage box, padded with acid-free tissue.” The box was stored in the museum’s “secure, climate-controlled Artifact Storage area.”

“Locked and alarmed,” Roberson said.

Roberson dismissed as not entirely accurate reports that there had been a tacit agreement as part of a legislative compromise to store the flag in a multimillion-dollar facility funded by the taxpayers—which would include, necessarily, the descendants of slaves.

He allowed that there had been some brainstorming with various architects and planners, but nothing had been decided and whatever was ultimately done would not likely be so grand.

He noted that he has not been able to get added funding for anything in recent years.

“Our budget has not increased at all,” he said.

Back at the State House, the flagpole where the banner had flown was now bare, but a monument to the Confederate dead remained. The inscription on the north side reads:

“This monument
perpetuates the memory,
of those who
true to the instincts of their birth,
faithful to the teachings of their fathers,
constant in their love for the State,
died in the performance of their duty:
Who
have glorified a fallen cause
by the simple manhood of their lives,
the patient endurance of suffering,
and the heroism of death,
and who,
in the dark house of imprisonment,
in the hopelessness of the hospital,
in the short, sharp agony of the field
found support and consolation
in the belief
that at home they would not be forgotten.
Unveiled May 13, 1879”

The fallen cause they glorified included sedition and slavery. The people at home included slaves who had suffered horrors that outdid even war.

There is also an inscription on the north side:

“Let the stranger,
who may in the future times
read this inscription,
recognize that these were men
whom power could not corrupt,
whom death could not terrify,
whom defeat could not dishonor
and let their virtues plead
for just judgment
of the cause in which they perished.
Let the South Carolinian
of another generation
remember
that the State taught them
how to live and how to die.
And that from her broken fortunes
she has preserved for her children
the priceless treasure of their memories,
teaching all who may claim
the same birthright
that truth, courage and patriotism
endure forever.”

The truth is they died fighting to deny fellow human beings the right to life and liberty. Their legacy is racism and hate.

The flowery falsehoods on the monument remain, now that the flag has been taken down in somber ceremony with white gloved hands and tucked safely away by a very nice museum director in an acid-free box, locked and alarmed.

 

By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, July 11, 2015

July 12, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Slavery, South Carolina | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now”: The Heritage Of White Supremacy Endorsing Violence

Last night, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston church, sat for an hour, and then killed nine people. Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:

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 moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.

Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.

Villain though he was, Booth was a man who understood the logical conclusion of Confederate rhetoric:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN”:

Right or wrong. God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God’s will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end….

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war—war upon Southern rights and institutions….

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

By 1865, the Civil War had morphed into a war against slavery—the “cornerstone” of Confederate society. Booth absorbed his lesson too well. He did not violate some implicit rule of Confederate chivalry or politesse. He accurately interpreted the cause of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, men who were too weak to truthfully address that cause’s natural end.

Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.

Take down the flag. Take it down now.

Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.

 

By: Ta-Nehist Coates, The Atlantic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Civil War’s Dirty Secret; It Was Always About Slavery”: Imposing Their Values On The Majority, It Was Never About States’ Rights

Seven score and ten years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, and the great American Civil War ended, or so we’ve read in high school textbooks and on Wikipedia.

The chivalrous Lee, in countless hues of grey on his white horse, and the magnanimous Grant in muddy boots were icons that the reunited-by-force United States needed desperately a century and a half ago, and that we’ve cherished ever since.

But the war did not really end at Appomattox, just as it did not really begin four years before when South Carolina militias opened fire on the tiny Union garrison in the massive, unfinished fort called Sumter that dominated Charleston Harbor.

And if we want to stop and think today about what that war was about—what made it happen—then cannons, shot and shells, minié balls, muskets and swords do not, in the end, tell us very much. Brave men were called on to fight for their homes and their ideals, or because they didn’t have better sense, and, as in every war, they kept on fighting for their brothers in arms.

In the South, the spirit of camaraderie and defiance ran so hot and so deep that for generations afterwards, and to this day in some corners of the air-conditioned Sunbelt that was once the Confederacy, people will tell you about “The Lost Cause.”

But, let’s be clear. The cause of the South was not the cause of chivalry, nor was it about the revolutionary ideals of the Boston Tea Party, as many claimed at the time. “The tea has been thrown overboard; the revolution of 1860 has been initiated,” declared Charleston’s Robert Barnwell Rhett as the Carolinians prepared to secede from the Union and precipitate the war.

Rhett was one of the coterie of radicals in the South who came to be known as “fire-eaters,” and their cause was not the cause of freedom that the founding fathers fought for in the American Revolution. Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves—black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union.

According to the original U.S. Constitution, slaves, who had no rights whatsoever as citizens, would be counted as three-fifths of a person for the census that determined a state’s representation in Congress. This constitutional right—for such it was—was not one the slave-holding states were willing to give up, because they feared if they lost their disproportionate power in Washington, eventually their “right” to own other human beings to clear their land, grow their crops, and make their fortunes for them would be challenged.

The cry of “self-preservation” in the face of the federal government was “always on the lips of a Carolinian when he is about to justify an outrage connected with Slavery,” wrote the British consul in Charleston in the 1850s.

Every so often, rumors of a “servile insurrection” stirred hysterical emotions and ruthless reprisals. One plot for a slave rebellion stoked by a “free person of color” named Denmark Vesey was crushed before it even began in the 1820s, but 40 years later it still lingered like a nightmare and a prophecy in the minds of Southerners.

The notion that had existed in the early part of the century that the hideous “peculiar institution” would somehow atrophy and disappear had itself evanesced. The cotton gin, a machine separating seeds from fiber that was invented at the end of the 18th century, had made a marginal crop into a source of enormous revenues. But the cotton economy of the South was hugely rapacious. It burned out old land so that new acreage constantly had to be opened, and that was the job of slaves.

The hunger for that fresh territory and the slaves to work it was insatiable. The annexation of Texas and the subsequent war that took a huge part of Mexico in 1848 was not enough to satisfy them, because not all that territory would be slave-owning. The South and its friends in the North (like President James Buchanan) wanted Cuba, too, and many Southerners supported efforts to invade and conquer and annex more of Mexico and much of Central America.

More land, more slaves, meant more money and more power to dominate the federal government and make it support people who wanted more land, more slaves and more money. And in the 1850s a movement grew that was best defined as “rule or ruin”: if the slave-owning South could not control the federal government, then it would break away from it. The Union, as the famous headline in the Charleston Mercury declared in December 1860, would be “dissolved.”

One of the issues that the fire-eaters played on was the reopening of the slave trade with Africa that had been banned since 1808. (The Constitution had enshrined it up until that date.) By the mid-19th century, most Americans, including most Southerners, knew that the traffic had been horrific, and many understood that it was, in fact, a holocaust. It had continued to Cuba and Brazil, and stories often reached the American press of ships packed so tightly with human cargo that, as one horrified U.S. naval officer put it, there was “scarcely space to die in.”

The fire-eaters pushing for secession argued that this was not a crime at all. Slavery, as Mr. Rhett (the would-be heir to the Tea Party) put it, was “a blessing to the African race and a system of labor appointed by God.” Such men firmly believed that the world markets for the cotton that slaves produced—especially the great military powers of Britain and France—would put aside their moral qualms and support the South for the sake of its white gold.

In essence, they convinced themselves that King Cotton was the king of England. But that was not the case. The British government never did join the Confederates in their war with the Union. And without such support the agrarian Confederacy was all but doomed in its fight against the heavily industrialized and much more populous North. Only the genius of Robert E. Lee was able to keep the war going for as long as it went on.

The Ordinance of Secession and “Declaration of the Immediate Causes” drafted by South Carolina grandees intent not only on justifying their own state’s withdrawal from the Union in December 1860, but on persuading the other slave-holding states to join it, was concerned entirely and exclusively with the question of slavery. It quoted the Constitution. It cited the Declaration of Independence. But it was not about all men being created equal. And it was not about tariffs, as some have argued since. And it was not merely about the general principle of states’ rights. It was specifically about the states’ rights to enshrine slavery, pure and simple—and evil—as that was, and the obligation of the federal government to guarantee the rights of human-property owners. Since the Feds weren’t likely to do that under the new Lincoln administration in Washington, the Carolinians argued, “self-preservation” dictated secession. They were determined, come what may, to make their world safe for slavocracy.

So where did the Civil War begin and where did it end? One can pick many places, many times, but an illuminating version of the story can be built around one figure: a young red-haired fire-eater from Savannah, the heir to a huge banking and commercial fortune in the North as well as the South, named Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar.

In 1858, Lamar backed the voyage of a sleek 118-foot yacht called the Wanderer that sailed to the coast of Africa, loaded 471 Negroes on board, according to contemporary accounts, and landed weeks later on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. Roughly 370 Africans were offloaded there. The other 101 had died at sea: acceptable attrition when Negroes could be sold in the South for six, eight, ten times what they cost in the baracoons of  West Africa. Their bodies had simply been thrown overboard. (“The shark of the Atlantic is still, as he has ever been, the partner of the slave trader,” as one British editorialist put it.)

Lamar and his partners sent the Wanderer on its voyage not only to make money, but to flout the federal law. A whole generation of slave traders hauling their tortured cargo to Cuba under the American flag had proved, on the rare occasions when they were caught, that no U.S. court would convict them for what was supposed to be a capital crime. Indeed, Southern grand juries would not even indict them. And Lamar and his cronies proved that once again.

“They are rather amused at the idea of embarrassing the Federal Government, and perhaps, in a lesser degree, of annoying Great Britain,” the British consul in Charleston advised London in 1859, “but they will awake from their delusion.”  He predicted that the Democratic Party, which the slave interests had dominated, would be torn apart by the fire-eaters pushing for ever greater power, and the anti-slavery Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, would come to power. “When this shall happen, the days of Slavery are numbered,” wrote the consul. “The prestige and power of Slave holders will be gone, never to return.”

And so it was. Lamar got what he had wished for. Most of the slave-holding states seceded from the Union, and they fought long and hard for their independence. Through much of that time, as a skilled organizer of blockade runners, Lamar not only survived but thrived. But as the Union troops of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Georgia in 1864, Lamar took up arms—and he would not put them down.

By then, it should have been obvious to all that the war was over. So desperate had the Confederates become that they even started talking about emancipating the slaves if only Britain and France would, at long last, back them. But by 1864 it was far too late for that.

On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

On April 14, 1865, Robert Anderson, who had surrendered Fort Sumter exactly four years before, raised the Union flag there once again in a ceremony intended to write a definitive end to the war. If he had had his wishes, he said, he would have done it in silence. In attendance were many former slaves who had enlisted as Union soldiers. One of the honored guests was the son of Denmark Vesey. But the event was forever overshadowed by the murder in Washington a few hours later of President Abraham Lincoln.

Still, Lamar continued to fight, stubborn and defiant as ever.

On April 16, 1865, Union and Confederate troops clashed on the outskirts of Columbus, Georgia. There are several different accounts of how Lamar died. In one that circulated among his relatives he was trying to surrender when he was shot almost by accident. But the one preferred by Erik Colonius, whose 2006 book The Wanderer is essentially a biography of Lamar, is far more dramatic:

“In a few minutes the fighting was hand to hand,” Confederate soldier Pope Barrow recalled later. “A Federal cavalryman, whose horse had been shot from under him, stepped in front of Black Cloud, the horse Col. Lamar was riding, seized the bit with his left hand, and threw up his carbine with his right, and called on Lamar to surrender. Quick as lightning, Lamar plunged his spurs into his horse’s sides and tried to run over his opponent. At that instant—as the horse reared and plunged above the soldier—he fired, and at the crack of the carbine Lamar fell lifeless to the ground.”

And so, Charlie Lamar’s war came to an end.

But there are times, and maybe today is one of those times, when one looks at the great questions of race and rights in the United States and realizes the spirit of the fire-eaters—their rationalization of racism, their contempt for the federal government, their penchant for violence, their self-deluding vision of their place in the world, and their desire to impose their values on the majority—all that, I am afraid, lives on.

 

By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Slavery, States Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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