Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slavery Isn't Very Civil...

I have recently had the misfortune of being presented with the delusional, wanton molestation of historical fact and reality that is the claim that the Civil War was "not about slavery".

This unsettling bit of tripe is often found falling from the lips of a certain segment of society as an attempt to distance their socially conservative stance against "big government" from the American elephant in the room: a certain "peculiar institution". Indeed, they’ll insist, brother was pitted against brother over the issue of "States’ Rights". Ah, the elusive specter of States’ Rights so often evoked but seldom defined. But which particular right or rights were being trampled on by big-bad federal government? And which states were making this complaint of violation? If only we had a way to determine what they had to say for themselves...

Sadly, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the first time this particular flavor of Bizarro World history has been presented to me. My interlocutor on this occasion quoted a Wikipedia entry on the Civil War, I’ll assume as some form of "proof":

"In September 1862, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation made ending slavery in the South a war goal"

As befuddled as I am by this selection, I suppose his intent was to suggest that slavery was not an issue until Lincoln decided to make it one in 1862, almost a year and a half into the war.

One would wonder, then, what Confederate officials had to say on the topic. In 1861, in his Inaugural Address as Provisional President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

"It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts...Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God - let him go to the Bible...I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation...Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come. You find it in the Old and New Testaments - in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere."

Thirteen years prior, as senator from Mississippi he told congress:

"If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree."

In 1856 he said:

"African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing."

Again, in his role as President of the Confederacy, he stated:

"My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses...We recognize the negro as God and God's Book and God's Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him - our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude...You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be."

Davis had a strong opinion about the Union:

"Were it ever to be proposed again to enter into a Union with such a people, I could no more consent to do it than to trust myself in a den of thieves...There is indeed a difference between the two peoples. Let no man hug the delusion that there can be renewed association between them. Our enemies are...traditionless."

Need one wonder precisely which tradition he could have possibly been referring to?

I readily admit that these are merely the recorded opinions of one individual Confederate, on one particular topic and, as such, do not necessarily say anything at all about the causes of the Civil war. Therefore, I will refer to pertinent official legal documents.

A study of the Constitution of the Confederate States presents one glaring difference from that of the United States—the mention of slavery:

"No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress]"

Of course, this too merely demonstrates that the Confederate states approved of slavery, not necessarily that it was a major factor in the Civil War. So, as it can hardly be argued that actual secession of states from the Union was the primary catalyst of the Civil War, we should investigate the reasons for secession. Luckily, each state presented these reasons, and the majority clearly mention slavery as the primary motivating factor, usually within the first paragraph and typically throughout.

The SECOND sentence of the Georgia Declaration of Secession:

"The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slaveholding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery."

The SECOND sentence of Mississippi's Declaration:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world."

"Thoroughly identified with...slavery". How much more clear can it get? From that same document:

"It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact, which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain."

A common theme from all of the "slave states" is the complaint of government theft. What "property" are they talking about? That’s right, humans.

South Carolina's Declaration bemoans the refusal of other states to abide by the Fugitive Law Act and return escaped slaves:

"The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution."

The Alabama Ordinance of Secession:

"And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States..."

Virginia's Ordinance:

"The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States"

This "oppression" was the pressure to stop oppressing human beings.

The Texas Ordinance of Secession makes it obvious:

"WHEREAS, The recent developments in Federal affairs make it evident that the power of the Federal Government is sought to be made a weapon with which to strike down the interests and property of the people of Texas, and her sister slave-holding States."

Finally, Texas' Declaration of Secession is rather blunt:

"She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery - the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits - a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time."

"When we advert to the course of individual non-slaveholding States, and that a majority of their citizens, our grievances assume far greater magnitude."

"The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause]..."

"In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slaveholding States. "

"By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.

They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a "higher law" than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.

They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition. "

"They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.

They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.

And, finally, by the combined sectional vote of the seventeen non-slaveholding States, they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States."

"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; 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.

By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South. "

I don’t think a stronger indictment can be made. The governments of each state, in announcing their secession, provided reason for that action, and each was quite clear that the strongest and primary grievances centered firmly around slavery.

Yet, in light of all of this primary source evidence, some people will still insist that the Civil War was not about slavery. The real question is, why?

[In an attempted stab at brevity I excised relevant sections from the quoted documents, all of which can be found in their entirety at http://www.civil-war.net/pages/ordinances_secession.asp.]

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