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28 Oct

There was a book written not long ago with the provocative title “Emancipating Slaves; Enslaving Free Men.” I don’t hold with the author’s premise that ending slavery was the only morally acceptable reason for the War of Secession and that protecting the rights and liberties of the Sovereign States and the People somehow constituted an unworthy cause. Nonetheless, the title at least is accurate. The War did indeed emancipate the black slaves while at the same time, enslaving all Americans including those newly emancipated. It was rather like those incidents in which the military states that it had to destroy something in order to save it! Whatever the original intention, the result turns out to be catastrophic for that which is being “saved.”

Of course, with the rise of politically correct Marxist revisionism as the only acceptable “system” for the study of history, everything about the War has been reduced to one issue only: that of slavery. There simply is no other criteria for consideration—not tariffs or a tyrannous federal government or the slow economic and political strangulation of the States of the South or even the existing hatred and contempt in which most of the rest of the so-called “union” held their Southern brethren. Bad feelings against the South, formerly limited to New England had, by the middle of the 19th century, been “exported” to every State and Territory North and West of the Mason-Dixon line. Of course, this insured that there was little sympathy for the growing impoverishment of that Section especially given the fact that the South’s poverty was the consequence of Southern tax dollars enriching the rest of the Union. This matter was infinitely exacerbated by the refusal of Congress to permit Southerners to move into any new territories if they brought their slaves with them even though that was their constitutional right. Thus hedged in on all sides, the South was politically, economically and culturally marginalized and being forced forever into a small, well defined territory within the nation at large—a precursor of the reservations established for the equally despised American Indian. The territory below the Mason-Dixon line and east of Indian territory became, quite literally, a ghetto into which the people of the South were forced to remain whatever happened. Individuals could leave, of course, but their culture and way of life was forever limited by law to Dixie whereas, the “Yankee” mindset, originally limited to New England, had infested virtually every part of the rest of what had formerly been the united (lower case “u”) States.

In point of fact, there had never really been a single unified “nation” from the beginning. Instead there were thirteen sovereign and diverse colonies who came together to act based upon the concept of “the enemy of my enemy….” Indeed, the original Articles of Confederation proved unworkable as a direct result of the lack of a cohesive vision among these newly independent “nations.” If there was insufficient motivation for those “nation-states” to work together under a yoke as mild as the Articles, forcing them into the more binding Constitution did not bode well for the future of the republic. But even the Constitution does not mention the word “nation,” neither did the majority of its creators envision the central government arising from that compact becoming the ruler rather than the servant of any—much less all—of the sovereign States. When it became obvious to many Southerners by the 1850s that this had already happened under the Constitution that had forbade that very situation, they and their States determined to leave that compact as already having been broken for the economic and political benefit of the rest of the signatory States. Indeed, the Southern understanding of the correct nature of the bond originally envisioned among the States was to be found in the name they chose for their new nation: the Confederate States of America. In short, they wished to return to the old Articles purged of those weaknesses that had led to the creation of the Constitution in the first place. Whether that would have succeeded, alas we shall never know.

There were many reasons for secession, but it was secession that was the reason for Mr. Lincoln’s war. Defenders of the South decry the claim that slavery was the sole reason for secession and thus, for the war. They bring up all of the above and more besides, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Nowhere is this more plain than in the apparent need for those defending the South to begin any such defense with the claim that they personally believe that slavery was a great evil and then going on to quote the likes of Robert E. Lee to show that this was not an unusual viewpoint in the South. Actually, it wasn’t unusual, but it wasn’t universal either and many Southern apologists have a very difficult time dealing with that reality. They seem to believe that in order to have any credibility at all, slavery—at least as it existed in the South in the 1800s—must be totally condemned not only in the here and now, but also in the time period in which it existed. No effort is made—or more properly, permitted to be made—to consider the mindset of the people or the situation extant at that time. Slavery and those who were part of it must be allowed no defense of any kind. But that is not all!

In fact—and here’s the problem—the subject cannot even be allowed rational debate and discussion! No one may even consider the problem through the lens of [1] the historical time period, [2] the history of slavery itself and [3] the alternatives (if any) available. In fact, nothing is acceptable but an immediate and mindless blanket condemnation of slavery without any reference to mitigating circumstances such as the conditions extant at that point in history. Also, there must be a total acceptance of any and every act that could be construed as attempting to end it however illegitimate and/or violent. Any other response is met with shock and horror, rendering a logical, rational, scholarly discourse on the institution virtually impossible and results first, in a defensive claim by those involved that they are against slavery (and who would claim to be for it?) and secondly, an outcry that the person attempting to consider the subject objectively and in depth is a racist and possibly even a member of the Klan. That is a very poor foundation upon which to build knowledge. If you cannot even discuss the issue, then rational human intercourse ceases to exist and we are left with demagoguery, slogans, propaganda and tyranny.

But that, sadly, is where things now stand. God help the intelligent person who looks into the institution of slavery as it came to be on this continent and what happened up until the passage of the 13th Amendment—or should I say, the second manifestation of that Amendment. The first manifestation was the virtually unknown “Corwin” Amendment offered by Lincoln and the radical Republicans while President Buchanan was still in office. This would have placed black slavery into the Constitution in perpetuity. Lincoln believed that the South was considering secession in order to protect slavery, which it must be admitted seemed likely given the rhetoric of the time. After all, slavery was the foundation of the cotton trade—which in turn, was the foundation of most Southern wealth. All that Lincoln wanted was a compliant South that remained in the Union and continued to fill the coffers of the federal treasury. That bounty would then continue to be distributed among Mr. Lincoln’s business cronies to his personal, political and economic benefit. The British called it mercantilism. The Americans beginning with Hamilton called it “the American system.” Mussolini called it “corporatism.” Today we call it “crony capitalism,” but, in fact, its correct name is fascism. The plight of the black slave was of no interest to the vast majority of Northern whites except in the abstract. On the other hand, the location of those blacks was very much of interest in the North. As can be seen by the various Norther “black codes,” that location was to be limited to the States of the South! However, there were those Northerners who did have an interest in ending black slavery, the radical abolitionists. Now while there were abolitionists who cared about the black slave, most were only interested in creating servile insurrection so that the black slave would kill the white Southerner and, in turn, be killed by the local militias. It was a sort of “two birds with one stone” strategy.

But for all of the claims that slavery was inefficient and too costly for its return, the fact is that it worked sufficiently well that had it not been for Northern tariffs unhindered by the increasing political impotence of the South, King Cotton would have bestowed upon the cotton states, at least, considerable wealth and therefore, considerable power. However, economically speaking, the Northern mogul with his huge manpower pool fleeing to the New World could use up and dispose of this human traffic at a far better cost-to-profit ratio than the Southern planter who was required by law to give his chattel lifelong care—not an inexpensive arrangement. Indeed, most of the disgust the New England Yankee felt for slavery had nothing to do with the plight of the slave, but rather what these worthies considered the waste of money used in caring for the young, the sick, the old and the crippled who gave no economic return for their keep. Except for children, such were never employed in his Northern factories, mills and mines! Indeed, should an employee become unable to work, he was simply discarded as any other piece of useless trash, his ultimate fate being of no interest to the merchant. The writings of New England businessmen, politicians and even ordinary citizens are filled with laments about the waste of good money on useless “Africans.”

Actually, the vast majority of the people of the North at all levels of income and society did not want the black man free, so much as they wanted him gone! They blithely forgot that their own people were the means by which blacks reached the pristine shores of North America—that is, after the British outlawed the trade in hopes of dealing a death blow to the New World empires of Portugal, France and Spain. The moral hypocrisy of non-Southerners regarding slavery would affect the current understanding of the subject if only people were aware of it. Now, it is not unknown, but efforts to enlighten Americans regarding the situation extant throughout the entire nation referencing slavery is well hidden indeed! Years ago, three journalists from the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank wrote a book entitled, Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery. It both entered and left the publishing scene quietly. People didn’t want to know, especially historians who hate the South because of, you guessed it! slavery. The book is still available and any right-thinking person interested in the topic should obtain a copy and read facts and not demagoguery.

But let us look finally, at whether or not an actual defense can be made for slavery. First, let us define “defense.” Does it mean “defending” as in promoting or approving of the institution? I am sure that there were Southerners of the time who did just that! But one doubts that anyone would do so today in this era of mindless political correctness where nuanced thought and speech simply cannot be permitted to exist. Yet, even Robert E. Lee believed that the situation of “the African” was much improved after he was taken from his dark homeland and brought into the light of the Christian West. Lee did not approve of forced servitude, but he reasoned—not incorrectly—that the Negro in America was both physically and spiritually better off than he would have been had he remained in Africa—and rationally, I do not believe that a case can be made to the contrary. To begin with, he was introduced to Christianity, something that would save his immortal soul. Whatever he endured as a slave paled beside the blessing of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Now while this secular age would find such reasoning poor at best and comedic at worst, in the 19th Century, most people (especially in the South) took their religion very seriously indeed!

Lee also reasoned—as did most astute Southerners—that slavery was a dying institution and that for the millions of slaves living in the South, the day was not all that far removed before they would be emancipated. Of course, this was not necessarily a comforting thought. Because of their numbers and their concentration first within the South itself and then more particularly, within certain regions in the South, the idea of a free Negro population unrestrained by the curb of white oversight and control made most whites very nervous indeed. This nervousness was further exacerbated by the efforts of Northern radical abolitionists to instigate servile insurrection of the type practiced by the infamous Nat Turner and his barbaric followers. So the people of the South found themselves in an untenable position. Even those who desired emancipation and an end to slavery did not know what to do with a black population that had grown to over three million by the 1860s, most of which was, by virtue of Northern “black codes,” confined to the South by law. Interestingly enough, many modern “scholars” talk about slavery as a sort of “black genocide” when it was exactly the opposite. Indeed, during reconstruction, a Northern newspaper man when talking about the “Africanization” of South Carolina stated that he did not believe that the blacks could remain in power. Among the reasons for his belief was their falling population due to the fact that their children were dying off in greater numbers because they were no longer being cared for as they had been under slavery! The post-war understanding that blacks were physically better off, lived longer and were more healthy and that black children had a better chance to live and thrive under slavery than they did as free men is a point of view that is ignored in today’s study of history even with its concentration on the black man in America.

There are very few circumstances in life that fail to produce both positive and negative consequences. I am reminded of the story of Pollyanna, a poor child who, despite being orphaned was habitually optimistic. She is warned by her maiden aunt’s servants that she will find nothing positive in her attendance at church on Sunday. And, indeed, the preacher is full of hell-fire and fury and the congregation departs more shell-shocked than comforted. When the group returns home, the servant asks the child if she is able to find anything positive to say about the ordeal. Pollyanna thinks for a few moments and then her face lights up and she cries, “It’s whole week until next Sunday!” Even death is not altogether negative. General James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart declared that he did not want to survive the War if the South did not prevail. God heard his prayer and delivered him as he himself had wished—that is, to die in a great battle on a fine horse. Though Stuart died in a bed, he was mortally wounded in just such a battle. Since all men die, here at least was a good Christian man given what he had prayed for—that is, to end his life before he was defeated. Even slavery was not an entirely negative condition as many testified both before and after the war. If slavery had been such a horror for blacks, then Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would have produced what was intended, a servile insurrection of such magnitude that Lee would have been stripped of soldiers rushing home to protect their helpless families from marauding black mobs. But Lincoln and his generals were wrong in their understanding of the relationship between most whites and blacks in the South and more often than not, slaves protected their white families as best they could when the Yankees came even to dying for them. How anyone can say that this did not constitute love and fidelity, I cannot imagine and if the slave loved the master and was loyal to him and his family, what reason could he or she have but that the master loved and succored the slave. There certainly is no doubt that the relationship between the races in the South was hierarchical, with whites ruling over blacks, but certainly it was far more amicable and even empathetic than the virulent anti-black sentiment that prevailed in the North.

Finally, facts and truths are not prejudiced on one side of an issue or the other. A fact is a fact and truth is truth and the enlightenment they bring cannot and should not be denied because of existing prejudice towards (or against) a particular viewpoint. The role of the scholar and the academic whether in science or mathematics or history is to discover facts whatever they may be and truth insofar as it can be discerned from those facts. When a scholar or an academic is more concerned with presenting a desired conclusion rather than one arising from said facts, he is no longer a scholar or an academic. He is a demagogue with an agenda.

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