Response to Prof. Irons

From: rajones@esper.com

Chuck,

Below are my comments sent in an e-mail to "Professor" Irons.

After reading your words a question came to my mind: Just what history are you an assistant professor of? With regard to American History you are desperately in need of a history lesson.

Let’s examine a couple of your statements and statements from our founding fathers without going into all the real reasons the Southern States seceded:

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive."
– Thomas Jefferson

"You may call us rebels and say we deserve no better treatment, but remember, my lord, supposing us rebels we still have feelings equally as keen and sensible as loyalists, and will, if forced to it, most assuredly retaliate upon those whom we look as the unjust invaders of our rights, liberties, and properties." (Letter from Washington to Lord Howe, January 18, 1777)

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this a right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”
Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln during a portion of a speech to Congress. January 20, 1848

<<<The Sons of Confederate Veterans have argued that the Civil War was not primarily about slavery. They are able to make this argument largely because they choose to emphasize the motives of individual soldiers instead of those of the Confederate government. Unsurprisingly, given this focus on private rather than public motivation, they find that many fought primarily in defense of hearth and home.>>>

Over 90 percent of these men owned no slaves. Why would they risk their lives to protect the property of people who did? (These people included other Blacks, Indians and people in the North.

<<<This rhetorical sleight of hand, hiding the national sins of the Confederacy behind the virtue of individual Confederate soldiers, is bad history. It is also a recipe for bad citizenship.>>>

(reread the quotes from above)

<<<White, Southern politicians from seven states in the Lower South formed the Confederate States of America in March 1861 for the purpose of preserving African slavery.>>>

This statement is total foolishness and can be proven by facts. Let’s examine a couple:

In August 25, 1862 Lincoln wrote a letter to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune in which he stated in part, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone; I would also do that”

From Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural Address

"I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of Slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so–and I have no inclination to do so."

He continues: "’Resolved, That maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the rights of each State, to order and control its domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends, and we denounce the lawless invasion, by armed force, of the soil of any State or territory–no matter under what pretext–as among the gravest crimes.’

<<<Lincoln, they concluded, would end slavery by force.>>>

You have got to be kidding. Let’s look at the proposed 13th Amendment of 1861: It was approved by Congress on February 28, 1861 and submitted to the States for ratification on March 2, 1861. It declared in part that “no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which would abolish or interfere with slavery wherever it is already established.” It was left unapproved because the Southern delegates had left Congress.

<<<When we excuse our leaders for violating human rights so long as we feel like we are being decent as individuals, we abdicate our obligation to hold our government accountable for its actions.>>>

Just who were these leaders you speak of? Were the African slaves not brought to America under the U.S. Flag on ships owned almost exclusively by Northern Slave traders who then sold them to Southern Planters.

Maybe you should be in a history class instead of teaching one.

Ron Jones
Chairman of Heritage Defense
Tennessee Division Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Hiding sin behind virtue is bad history
by Charles F. Irons

The Sons of Confederate Veterans — in their published literature, in the pages of this newspaper, and at the fictional "Battle of Zachary Hill" held in Snow Camp three weeks ago — have argued that the Civil War was not primarily about slavery.

They are able to make this argument largely because they choose to emphasize the motives of individual soldiers instead of those of the Confederate government. Unsurprisingly, given this focus on private rather than public motivation, they find that many fought primarily in defense of hearth and home.

This rhetorical sleight of hand, hiding the national sins of the Confederacy behind the virtue of individual Confederate soldiers, is bad history. It is also a recipe for bad citizenship.

White, Southern politicians from seven states in the Lower South formed the Confederate States of America in March 1861 for the purpose of preserving African slavery. The Confederacy’s Vice President, Georgia’s Alexander Stephens, explained to a cheering crowd in Montgomery, Alabama the new nation’s foundational principles.

The idea that all men are created equal was "fundamentally wrong," Stephens declared, adding that: "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."

Confederate statesmen resoundingly approved Stephens’ remarks. Delegates from the Confederacy who tried to convince other states to join them in their defense of slavery argued that the Confederacy’s chief advantage over the United States was that it preserved African slavery.

Alabama’s delegates to North Carolina, for example, warned of the horrors that would overtake the state if Carolinians allowed Lincoln to enact his antislavery agenda. White children, they prophesied, would "be compelled to flee from the land of their birth, and from the slaves their parents have toiled to acquire as an inheritance for them, or to submit to the degradation of being reduced to an equality with them, and all its attendant horrors."

The states of the Upper South made their devotion to race-based slavery clear when they proposed at the Washington Peace Conference a series of Constitutional amendments that would keep them in the union. Not one of these amendments had to do with the tariff or with internal improvements. All related to race-based slavery, prohibiting the federal government’s right to interfere with the institution and guaranteeing its expansion.

When Northern Republicans refused these compromise measures, white residents of the Upper South worried that their property in slaves was not safe in the Union. When, after the firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for troops to bring the Confederate States back into the Union, they saw those fears confirmed. Lincoln, they concluded, would end slavery by force.

This was enough for whites in Tennessee, Arkansas, Virginia, and North Carolina, who joined the Confederate States of America.

Some argue that whites from the Upper South were more concerned with defending states’ rights or with protecting the "Southern way of life" than they were about slavery. The trouble with this view is that white Southerners consistently identified their right to own slaves as the only state’s right worth fighting over. Moreover, slavery and white supremacy characterized the "Southern way of life."

As Virginia’s Attorney General, John Tucker, put it in 1863, "This relation

[between master and slave] was our social necessity. Its disturbance would be a social disaster — might be our social ruin. We could not surrender its control to any other than ourselves — especially to those who could not, or would not understand it — and, more especially, to those who were not only ignorant of the nature of the relation, but who religiously and fanatically detested it, and politically and socially antagonized us, on account of it."

When we substitute individual motivation for national motivation in our analysis of why Confederates fought, we strip history of its power to teach us how to live in the present. We sidestep, for one thing, issues of racial justice at the core of the Civil War and Reconstruction. By denying the extraordinary efforts white Americans have historically undertaken in order to subordinate black Americans, we undermine the moral imperative to work for racial equality today.

The "defense of hearth and home" interpretation of the Civil War is also a recipe for bad citizenship, because it encourages us to ignore our complicity in our government’s decisions.

When we excuse our leaders for violating human rights so long as we feel like we are being decent as individuals, we abdicate our obligation to hold our government accountable for its actions. This lesson is as valuable today as ever.

Charles F. Irons is a history professor at Elon University

Charles Irons – Assistant Professor – History
Powell Building 217B
2146 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244
Phone: (336) 278-6295
cirons@elon.edu

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