From: Ryan McKenzie – firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Sat, Oct 9, 2010
Subject: RE: Questions about the CSA SHNV
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Dear Mr. Combs,
I read your question for HK on Southern Heritage News & Views. While I expect that HK is fully capable of giving you an answer, I thought I would give you one of my own as well. The slavery question, as you are no doubt aware, is a prickly one. We as Southerners can’t escape it, and we must admit that our ancestors were guilty in this respect. This does not mean we need to fall down on our knees, as most of humanity, including much of Africa, to this day is guilty of practicing slavery. We simply need to recognize our faults without getting overly worked up about them.
So many get so worked up about slavery, and apply modern ways of thinking about the issue, that they can’t see the bigger picture. It is important to remember everything that was going on and the context of events. It is also important to note a distinction in secessionist documents. There are two sets of documents. First are the actual Ordinances of Secession and second are the so called Declarations of Secession. The Ordinances are the actual legal secession legislation passed by each state, these are often very limited in their language on causes. The Declarations of Secession were written after the states had already seceded by a relatively few individuals, and only four states adopted them, all of them in the Deep South.
Firstly, just as slavery was an issue during the Revolutionary War, slavery was an issue during Lincoln’s War. Compromises were made during the Revolution on the slavery issue, and they continued to be made through the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The American Revolutionaries could not afford to quibble extensively on the issue of slavery if they wished to win the bigger cause. Even the Declaration of Independence from England lists slavery as a cause of the Americans. In spite of this we recognize today that slavery was nowhere close to being the principle issue. The Declaration reads in part “He (the king) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us (freed our slaves and armed them against us), and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Items in parentheses added by myself. The English passed their own Emancipation Proclamation and had the Brits won the Revolution, American slavery may well have ended close to that time.
The South needed to make sure that slave owners supported the government. If slave interests were not appeased, then slave owners might not support secession. It can’t be forgotten that that Lincoln and many others were promising to protect slavery in the states where it existed if states remained in the Union. From the perspective of rich slave holders, their personal interests might be better served in the Union rather than risking war and punishment. The bigger the slave holder, the more reason they had to oppose secession unless their interests appeared secure in the immediate future.
It’s always difficult to fully describe the mindset of a people in time, because just as today, there is no fixed mindset amongst everyone. Even among members of each political party there are factions today. Not everyone who is a Democrat or Republican today agrees with everything other members of their party is doing, nor do they all share the exact same views about their opposition party.
However, if I’m going to simplify the mindset of people back then as much as I can, I would suggest that the conflict was born close to the time of the Revolution. The history of the United States is nothing but one long fight between the Federalist faction and the Anti-Federalist faction; between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. While the Hamiltonians were originally somewhat aligned with classical monarchical conservatism, they became the nucleus of modern liberalism in America and quickly adopted a socialist mindset. The Jeffersonians are the ancestors of modern conservatism and libertarian thought. Examine the Northern Puritans who wished to bring light to the world. If one takes away their religion and replace it with human transcendentalists with a socialist/collectivist desire to bring their vision of light to the world, one has a mess.
The feud between the Jeffersonians and Federalists seemed to be over after Jefferson won the Presidency in 1800 and the Federalists continued to self destruct over the next decade. However, the Federalists did not go away, they just started reinventing themselves and giving themselves new names. The Whig Party was a reincarnation of the Federalists, and eventually the original Republicans were too. This is what is being referred to in the Georgia Declaration of Secession where it says, “The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose.” Those “exploded political heresies” etc., are the policies and beliefs of Federalism which the Jeffersonians had repeatedly defeated.
The Hamiltonians were always looking for ways to get back in power in Washington and restore their big government ideals. The Northern faction figured out they could gain traction by using slavery as an issue against the limited government Southern faction. It’s exactly the same thing that is going on all the way up today. If you oppose the big government today, they accuse you of racism. The history of the United States is one continuous fight between the exact same factions.
Slavery became a key issue because the Southern elite were guilty of being tied to it. By ending the extension of slavery they would limit the number of influential Southerns who would move to a new territory or state. If Southern influence was limited, then the Northern faction would take control by having more people moving there. If the Northern fraction was in control of a new state, then they would get the votes and gain full control over Washington.
This is why the real issue of the Missouri Compromise, and everything else, was always really about the balance of power not slavery itself. It was about control of territory for votes in Washington. In the Missouri Compromise the concern in the North was that the South was going to get control over more territory if Missouri entered as a slave state, so the South compromised and allowed them to let Maine split off from Massachusetts and join as a free state, sending more Senators to DC. Not a single slave was freed, not a single slave was advantaged, and slavery expanded. However, the North did manage to maintain the balance of power. Slavery was obviously not the principle concern of the Northern political faction. At no time was there ever a debate about forcing the Southern states to abolish slavery. The debate was always about extending slavery into the territories, and thus future control of Washington.
This manipulation of the slavery issue for political purposes had disastrous consequences. Rather than simply debating the moral issues of slavery, it became inseparably tied to larger political interests. Attacks galvanized Southerners behind slavery as a political issue necessary to make sure Southern interests and Jeffersonian policies were maintained. If slavery did not expand into the territories, then the Hamiltonians would gain power. In other words, centralized abolitionism was literally in the minds of some Southerners equal to big government Hamiltonianism, and Slave interests were equal to small government Jeffersonianism. In other words, by the time of the war a Southerner could write about the evils of abolitionism and actually be talking about the evils of big government.
To some extent one has to put themselves in the shoes of the people back then. It’s difficult to find anything contemporary to compare to the expansion of slavery into new territories, but a somewhat imperfect example would be the oil industry. Oil obviously does not have exactly the same moral implications of slavery, as a business is not inherently good or bad, but to some extent we can see some similarities. Liberals like to manipulate the oil issue as a weapon in their arsenal against free enterprise and Jeffersonian principles. While these attacks are slimy manipulative and often completely wrong, sometimes one sees conservatives go too far in defending oil companies because the issue has become overly politicized. For liberals, big oil is a image they have created to attach to conservatives, while some conservatives feel the need to defend almost every action of every oil company because they have mentally attached the oil companies to the cause at large.
So, we can say that the South was guilty of slavery, and we would even be right to recognize that they were wrong t to adopt the mindset about the need for slavery, but we must understand things from their perspective as well. I can’t imagine the difficulty in separating the political from the moral issue at the time. We must also recognize that slavery itself was not the principle issue in the fight even if it became attached.
I’m convinced that had the South been successful in gaining independence that slavery would have ended within it’s borders. Without the politicization of the slavery issue by Northerners, and without the need to extend slavery for votes in the government, rationality would have prevailed as it did in every other westernized country. Not only was slavery increasingly viewed as immoral in the west, it was also becoming more and more economically unstable. Slaves were becoming more and more expensive. This was partially because of the inability to purchase new cheap slaves from Africa. The Confederate Constitution forbid the importation of slaves except from the United States, so all slaves had to be born in the Confederacy or the United States Most likely slavery would have ended through gradual emancipation enacted by each individual state in the Confederacy, just as it had been accomplished in the North. This would also have come with the benefit of a lack of racial animosity which was stirred up by Northern victory and Reconstruction Southern segregation, for example, is largely a postwar institution.
Ask yourself the following questions.
Q. Was the elections of the Republicans an immediate threat to slavery in the South?
A. No, it was only an immediate threat to the extension of slavery in the territories.
Q. If the South thought expansion into the territories by slavery was necessary, why would they secede and give up on the expansion of slavery into the territories?
A. Because the expansion of slavery was only necessary to fight against Federalist power in DC. The expansion of slavery was not necessary if the states were no longer in the Union. The issue of slavery for both the North and the South was a means, not an ends.