The Unfulfilled Promise of Reunion
By Steve Quick
No other place of origin evokes such strong reactions and prejudices as the word “Southern”. It is all the more amazing when one considers the manner in which the early Republic was shaped and dominated by Southerners. Jefferson was the intellectual and spiritual architect of the Declaration and as the third President acquired the vast Louisiana Territory staking an early claim as far as the Pacific. Washington’s feats after he defeated the British at Yorktown include the first two terms as President, declining a third and an offer to be “King”. James Madison and Patrick Henry crafted a Constitution which has proved the most enduring and practical political document in the world. In fact, five of our first seven Presidents were Southern and it was James Knox Polk in the 1840’s who assured the U.S. would be a permanent transcontinental nation.
It is not only ironic but forgotten that it was once New England that suffered from the inferiority complex when compared to the feats of these Southern giants. The hinge upon which this extraordinary about-face occurred was the epic known now by the misnomer the “Civil War” and the events which preceeded. That terrible conflict, much distorted by both traditional history and more recently the revisionist variety, holds the unfulfilled promise of our national destiny. We currently lack the will and the courage to learn its great truths, banish its dark lies, probe its obscured origins and confront its painful legacies. These myths and distortions must be replaced with historical facts if we desire the ultimate goal of national reconciliation. These include:
1) The slave trade prospered in West Africa 40 years before Columbus even discovered America. African tribes actually conducted raids on their neighbors for the express purpose of enslaving them. Tragically, slavery is practiced to this very day in places like the Sudan, Zaire and Nigeria.
2) Five European powers (Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and Britain) competing for New World influence all employed slavery, with Brazil (Portugal’s crown jewel) topping the list at 5.5 million slaves, half of the total brought to the New World. By 1860, their numbers had dwindled to a little over 2 million.
3) Only 6% of Africans reached our shores (about 600,000). By 1860 their numbers had increased (without new importations) to almost 4 million, the only slave population in recorded history to increase in captivity. Indigent Anglo-Celts filled the need for slaves (as indentured servants) in our early history by selling themselves into slavery because they could not afford the cost of passage. Most white Southerners are descendants of these early bondsmen.
4) Slavery was practiced in all thirteen colonies and NY was second only to Charleston in 1776 as the city with the highest percentage of slaves. Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree, a slave in New York.
5) The liberal guilt, which today besets the North, has at its roots the profits from its vast slave trading which did nothing less than finance the Industrial Revolution. At the Constitutional Convention a continuation of the slave trade was a concession wrung by the Northern delegations from the South which allowed the North to continue the international trade another 20 years, until 1808.
6) New England slave ships continued plying the waters in defiance of the ban thereafter providing millions of slaves to French and Spanish sugar plantations in the Caribbean and South America.
7) The 1860 census reveals 95% of America’s slaves were owned by just 5% of the population while 85% of Southerners owned the land and structures they lived upon. This clearly establishes a large, independent non slave-holding class of yeoman farmers who later became the rank and file as well as the heart and soul of the Confederate army. To state their motive for fighting was the preservation of slavery is pure nonsense. Ironically there were actually more “free persons of color” in the South than the North of which 30% were slave-owners themselves.
8) Secession as a doctrine was asserted by both North and South (Massachusetts threatened to secede on three separate occasions). The abolitionists had also advocated secession. It was only after 1830 when the control of national politics by the North became permanent that secession became associated exclusively with the South. As a nation conceived in secession and built upon the principle that government is contingent on the consent of the governed the South, or any other section of the country for that matter was completely within principle to assert the right.
9) Slavery was an inefficient, self-consuming labor system driven by cotton and already well-contained within its own soon to be encountered natural frontiers (the American desert). It required ever newer lands to replace that which it exhausted. The pattern was identical throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. It was doomed for extinction well before the end of the century if left alone.
10) Support for war among the general population North and South was weak prior to Sumter. The original seceding states contained only 30% of the Southern population. Four southern states subsequently voted down one ordinance of secession, four others would remain within the Union fold throughout the war. Northern war fever was equally tepid. The manipulation of Ft. Sumter by Seward and Lincoln which resulted in hostile fire polarized the vast middle and guaranteed a long and bloody conflict.
11) The war was unconstitutional and the closing of over 300 Northern newspapers and suspension of habeas corpus that jailed 13,000 Northern civilians (including elected officials) is without parallel in our entire history! The Lincoln Administration repeatedly violated amendments 1, 4,5,6,8, 9 and 10. By contrast Jefferson Davis closed not one paper nor jailed one citizen.
12) Warfare against citizens had ceased in Europe and a conduct of war eventually known as the “Geneva Conventions” codified in Europe during the 1860s forbade war against civilian centers. Contrary to this great humanitarian trend when it became apparent the Confederate armies could not be subdued in the field war was commenced against civilians. The depredations of Sherman in Georgia and the Carolinas as well as Hunter’s and Sheridan’s in Virginia mirror much witnessed in the recent Balkan war.
13) While the war is now represented as an altruistic crusade by the North to free the slaves the historical facts could not be more contradictory. The 1860 Republican Convention contained a platform plank promising protection for slavery everywhere it currently existed. Lincoln at his first inaugural address offered a constitutional amendment forever protecting slavery. A Congressional Resolution in 1862 reaffirmed the war’s aim was to “preserve the Union, not free the slave”.
14) The Emancipation Proclamation was met in the North by laws collectively known as “Black Codes”. These laws forbade entry, travel, work or residence by African-Americans in Northern states. The Proclamation was nothing but a clever ruse to stall imminent European recognition of the Confederacy. It freed no one. Slave states remaining in the Union (in the border states) not only retained their slaves, but also benefited from the strictest enforcement of the hated Fugitive Slave Law.
15) Blacks served willingly and honorably in the Confederate armies. Estimates of their numbers run as high as 100,000. Their motive was the same as their Federal counterpart; patriotism and the desire to disprove the misconceptions about their race. They fought no more to preserve slavery than to preserve Jim Crow during the Spanish-American War, or the doctrine of separate but equal in Korea. 16) The holocaust that resulted from the halt of the prisoner exchange is the sole responsibility of Stanton (Lincoln’s Secretary of War) and Grant. Its only design was to deprive the Confederacy of manpower with the full knowledge scores of thousands on both sides would perish. By the wars’ end, 30,000 on each side had died in captivity. The largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere is located at Oakwood Cemetery in Chicago and contains the remains of 4200 Confederate known P.O.W.s. The bodies of the other 1800 were lost and remain unknown. 17) Had the South prevailed Robt. E. Lee would have undoubtedly been elected president (the Confederate Constitution limited the President to one six year term) and just as undoubtedly have taken immediate steps to free the slaves. This single act, proposed as it would have been by President Lee would have been accepted by the South and would have advanced race-relations light years. 18) As it was Reconstruction was the single most corrupt period of our entire history, pitting newly enfranchised Blacks against disenfranchised and occupied southern Whites. When in 1877 the last of the troops and carpetbaggers left only Blacks remained to face the rage and hatred of a humiliated South. The ugliness of the 1960s can be traced unbroken from the 1860s. 19) Recent interpretations, Ken Burns The Civil War foremost among them, while artfully crafted, serve only to perpetuate the victor’s propaganda that lies at the root of the unresolved conflict.
By the beginning of the 20th century the wounds of that war had finally begun to heal. Southerners embraced anew the Stars and Stripes while Robert E Lee became a national, not just a regional hero. Confederate Battle flags were returned to the restored states and Southern pride in the old Confederacy was not considered inconsistent with their fundamental American patriotism. Unfortunately South-bashing has replaced the mutual respect of a century ago. In an age of so-called tolerance there are no boundaries to the venom that is daily heaped upon all things and persons Southern; our faith, our heroes, our symbols and our history. It has reopened a rift that may ultimately and ironically fuel a desire for independence from a people who refuse to be homogenized or abused any further. This much is certain, until we understand and teach the Civil War truthfully the ink on the surrender documents signed in McLean’s parlor will never dry.