Saturday, August 19, 2017

Look away, look away, look away!

The "real" flag of the Confederacy

I've had to update my previous post on Texas history and Confederate monuments, and it made me think I should revisit the issue, taking as read what was said there and in comments.

Let me start with the complete selection of statements about secession that I found in the article at the SPLC website:

"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.”

Texas Declaration of causes for secession, February 2, 1861

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

Mississippi Declaration of causes for secession

“They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.”

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy
Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861

“Our new government is founded 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.”

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy
Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861

“A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

South Carolina Declaration of causes for secession,
December 24, 1860

What prompts this review is not the discussion in the earlier post, but the comments on CNN I found at this article on RawStory.  Bill Starnes, a member of the Confederate Sons of America, asserted to Brooke Baldwin that no laws outlawing slavery nationwide were pending in Congress prior to 1861, a bit of a red herring to anyone who knows the history of America prior to the Civil War.  He lost her completely when he declared that Abraham Lincoln was worse than Adolph Hitler; which tells you the level of his historical acumen.

But the clear cause of the war was racism and slavery, as evidenced in the quotes above.  Almost any other argument, I humbly submit, is moonshine, promoted by schools in the South at least (I am, as I said, a product of that education), and bolstered by monuments to racism that we call statues of Confederate "heroes," be they merely the anonymous soldiers of the war (as in the case in Durham, North Carolina) or actual figures from that war, like Jefferson Davis, or the men of Terry's Rangers and Hood's Brigade.   Interesting that there is no similar monument to honor Texas soldiers or officers from World War I or World War II on the Capitol grounds.

Those statues honored a "lost cause" and a "noble effort" which was neither, and was itself entirely moonshine and fiction.  Those monuments normalized racism.  They idealized a conflict that was conducted on as vile and disgusting a basis as any imaginable in the 20th century, and sanitized it to a point people who think they have actually studied history imagine the war was for nobler causes than human enslavement and pure racism.  Were there other reasons for the war?  Well, probably; just as one could say there were other reasons for the Holocaust.  But is that really relevant in a general discussion about whether slavery was a cause or not? Besides, having personally experienced the kind of passion and even violence that racism can inspire, I think racism and slavery are ample reasons to prompt war, especially given the "hidden wound" that the "peculiar institution" was from the beginning of the republic (which is actually the root cause of the war, returning us to the issue of slavery).

Interesting that I grew up hearing about "revisionist" historians who were "distorting" history by shifting attention away from the cowboys on TV shows of my childhood, and brave pioneer settlers (always white) facing the "savage Indians" and toward the people who were here when Europeans got here; as well as away from the "lost cause" and towards the horrors of slavery (horrors that were recorded in American literature in the 19th century, too, but washed from memory in the tidal wave of revisionist historical romance of Gone with the Wind and even Faulkner's work, where black Southerners play little or no role).  The real revisionism were the lies my teachers told me.  My teachers, and public monuments to bad men whose only interest was their own gain.  We were told it was about liberty and integrity and independence.  It was actually about dependence on the stolen labor of others, the utter denial of their liberty as well as their humanity, and the destruction of our integrity so that system could be maintained for the benefit of a few.

Same as it ever was, in other words.  We just tried to gild it; but you can't shine up shit.*

*Editor's note:  this is a personal statement.  Please feel free to disagree with the generalities or the particulars in comments.  The author will keep his inner pit bull on a leash.

1 comment:

  1. I read somewhere, recently, that the claim that the Confederacy was a matter of "states rights" is shown to be a lie in that the Confederate Constitution denied the right to states it might gain to decide for being free states. I haven't had time to fact-check that claim, being engaged in another research requiring series.

    Another fine post.