Guest columnist
Rhea Dabney
Issue date: 12/4/06

Slavery was wrong, but slavery was. It existed. It is part of history. Not just part of the history of the United States or of the South, but part of the history of man.

For schoolteachers, liberal historians and Yankees to cast the Southern white male as the villain in this play may be politically correct but it is historically incorrect.

For civil rights activists to encourage and endorse this historical corruption leads to futile and misguided efforts to deny the South its Confederate heritage. Do these "leaders" expend their time and effort tilting against this particular windmill in order to justify their continued employment, or do they simply feel impotent against the real problems which plague the black community; crime, drugs, broken homes, welfare slavery, teen pregnancy and unemployment?

Whatever their reasons, they risk alienating many of the very people who could help them. Slavery has been in existence for thousands of years, in fact in ancient times it was actually an improvement over the previous practice of slaughtering prisoners captured in battle.

The laws of Moses addressed slavery, stating that Hebrew slaves must be released after six years of service and that foreign slaves must be set free twice in every hundred years. African tribes and American Indians had been enslaving their captives for centuries before Columbus discovered America.

In 1516, the Spanish began bringing slaves to America. As slave trade became profitable many nations took part. Half the slaves brought by the time of the Revolutionary War were transported in British ships. Almost all American ships involved in the slave trade were owned by northerners. Even the Puritans of Massachusetts captured their Pequot Indian neighbors and sold them in the West Indies.

Between 1755 and 1766, more than 23,000 African slaves were imported into Massachusetts alone. Rhode Island had the dubious honor of being the top importer of slaves in 1787, followed shortly thereafter by New York. Due to its unique agricultural economy and practices, the South became a purchaser of slaves, but it was the Northerners who imported and sold them.

The War for Southern Independence, the name of which in itself states the main reason for the war, was it fought over slavery?

President Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Congressman Alexander Stephens of Georgia, written on Dec. 22, 1860, stated, "Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you … there is no cause for such fears."

In his inaugural address, on March 4, 1861, Lincoln stated, "I declare that I have no intention, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists."

Was Lincoln a habitual liar like President Bill Clinton? I don’t think so. Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery, but he knew that it would soon cease to exist without the necessity of a tragic and bloody war, as more and more Southerners began to oppose it.

No, Lincoln was goaded into war by the big business interests of the North who knew that if they lost the South as a market and as a supplier of raw materials, they would be ruined.

He never intended to free the slaves and in fact never did. His much-lauded Emancipation Proclamation was not even issued until the war had been going on for almost two years. A careful reading of the entire Emancipation Proclamation, only the politically correct parts of which are found in most textbooks, will reveal that it was an act of war not of compassion.

It specifically excluded from its slave-freeing provisions all the Northern states and all Southern states and parts of states then occupied by Union invaders, and it stated: "…which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued."

Viscount Palmerston, then Prime Minister of England, hit the nail on the head when he said that Lincoln had undertaken to abolish slavery where he was without power to do so, while protecting it where he had the power to destroy it. In fact, slavery was not legally abolished in the United States until Dec. 18, 1865, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution became law.

None of the above is meant to excuse the institution of slavery or the participation of Americans, North or South, in it. In hindsight, it was clearly wrong, but it is also wrong, and dangerous, to judge people of the past by the standards of the present; for even Honest Abe would be considered a racist by today’s definition. To maliciously revise history for the purpose of castigating the South and Southerners is certainly counter productive to improved race relations.

Rhea Dabney

© 2006 MTSU Sidelines

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