The Confederate Leviathan

Ronald Bailey
September 18, 2009

Last night I was dining with an acquaintance who hails from the North and who is an amateur historian specializing in the Grand Army of the Republic. My acquaintance is often asked to lecture on the GAR at Civil War meetings and reenactments. He claimed that most Civil War buffs are chiefly focused on Confederate armies and interest in Union armies is minimal.

We got to talking about the Confederate battle flag and what is symbolizes today. Some people wave it around as a symbol of states rights, which I take to refer to the rights and political powers that individual states possess in relation to the federal government. Supporters of the states rights doctrine aim to restrict the growing powers of the federal government and the often unstated implication is that states are better guarantors of individual rights than is the federal government.

As our discussion continued, my dinner companion asked, "Did you know that the Confedaracy introduced conscription well before the Union did?" I admitted that I did not know that. We kept talking about various violations of liberty–other than the horrific atrocity of slavery– pioneered by the Confederacy. For a quick summary, my companion directed my attention to the blog Civil War Memory run by local historian Kevin Levin. In a recent post, Levin asks,

… is the record of the Confederacy one of limited government and respect for individual rights?

The answer is, no. As evidence, Levin lists the following Confederate violations of liberty:

        * Conscription (before the United States)
        * Tax-In-Kind
        * Tariff (higher than the 10 to 15 percent rate proposed by Hamilton in his Report on Manufacturers (1791)
        * Confederate National Investment in Railroads (amounting to 2.5 million in loans, $150,000 advanced, and 1.12 million appropriated)
        * Confederate Quartermasters leveled price controls on private mills and were later authorized to impress whatever supplies they needed.
        * Government ownership of key industries
        * Government regulation of commerce
        * Suspension of habeas corpus (According to historian, Mark Neely, 4,108 civilians were held by military authorities)

So, to repeat Levin’s question to would-be defenders of states rights: Are you sure that you’re waving the right flag?

Addendum: Take a look at the 2004 Reason column "Wrong Song of the South: The dangerous fallacies of Confederate multiculturalism" by David Beito and Charles Nuckolls. They correctly conclude:

If the Confederate multiculturalists believe in liberty, as many of them assert, they will stop waving the Confederate Battle Flag, abandon the cause of a nation state that championed an unforgivable violation of inalienable rights, and embrace the rich American heritage of individualism.

©2009 Reason Magazine

On The Web:   reason.com/blog/show/136173.html