Gone with the myths

The au­thors of these pa­pers flat­tered them­selves that they'd con­jured up a sec­ond Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Ed­ward Ball

Aseries on Amer­ica's most per­ilous pe­riod, us­ing con­tem­po­rary ac­counts and his­tor­i­cal as­sess­ments to fol­low the Civil War as it un­folded. ON Dec. 20, 1860, 169 men - politi­cians and peo­ple of prop­erty - met in the ball­room of St. An­drew's Hall in Charleston, S.C. Af­ter hours of de­bate, they is­sued the 158-word "Or­di­nance of Se­ces­sion," which re­pealed the con­sent of South Carolina to the Con­sti­tu­tion and de­clared the state to be an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. Four days later, the same group drafted a seven-page "Dec­la­ra­tion of the Im­me­di­ate Causes," ex­plain­ing why they had de­cided to split the Union.

The au­thors of these pa­pers flat­tered them­selves that they'd con­jured up a sec­ond Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion. In­stead, the Se­ces­sion Con­ven­tion was the be­gin­ning of the Civil War, which killed some 620,000 Amer­i­cans; an equiv­a­lent war to­day would send home more than six mil­lion body bags.

The next five years will in­clude an all-you-can-eat spe­cial of na­tional re­mem­brance. Yet even af­ter 150 years full of grief and pride and anger, we greet the sesqui­cen­ten­nial won­der­ing, why did the South se­cede?

I can tes­tify about the South un­der oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my fam­ily fought for the Con­fed­er­acy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the an­swer I've heard to this ques­tion, from Vir­ginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: "The War Be­tween the States was about states' rights. It was not about slav­ery."

I've heard it from women and from men, from sober peo­ple and from peo­ple liquored up on an­tiWash­ing­ton talk. The North wouldn't let us gov­ern our­selves, they say, and Congress laid on tar­iffs that hurt the South. So we re­belled. Se­ces­sion and the Civil War, in other words, were about small govern­ment, limited fed­eral pow­ers and states' rights.

But a look through the dec­la­ra­tion of causes writ­ten by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that fol­lowed it out of the Union - which, taken to­gether, paint a kind of self-por­trait of the Con­fed­er­acy - re­veals a dif­fer­ent story. From Ge­or­gia to Texas, each state said the rea­son it was get­ting out was that the aw­ful North­ern states were threat­en­ing to do away with slav­ery.

South Carolina: "The non­slave­hold­ing states ... have de­nounced as sin­ful the in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery" and "have en­cour­aged and as­sisted thou­sands of our slaves to leave their homes."

Mis­sis­sippi: "Our po­si­tion is thor­oughly iden­ti­fied with the in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery - the great­est ma­te­rial in­ter­est of the world. There was no choice left us but sub­mis­sion to the man­dates of abo­li­tion, or a dis­so­lu­tion of the Union." Ge­or­gia: "A brief his­tory of the rise, progress, and pol­icy of anti-slav­ery and the po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion into whose hands the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Fed­eral Govern­ment has been com­mit­ted will fully jus­tify the pro­nounced ver­dict of the peo­ple of Ge­or­gia."

Sev­eral states sin­gle out a spe­cial cul­prit, Abra­ham Lin­coln, "an ob­scure and il­lit­er­ate man" whose "opin­ions and pur­poses are hos­tile to slav­ery." Lin­coln's elec­tion to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that "the pub­lic mind must rest in the be­lief that slav­ery is in the course of ul­ti­mate ex­tinc­tion."

In other words, the only state right the Con­fed­er­ate founders were in­ter­ested in was the rich man's "right" to own slaves.

It's pe­cu­liar, be­cause "states' rights" has be­come a pop­u­lar re­frain in Repub­li­can cir­cles lately. Last year Gov. Rick Perry of Texas won­dered aloud whether se­ces­sion was his state's right in the af­ter­math of laws out of Congress that he dis­liked. In part be­cause of this re­newed rhetoric, in the com­ing re­mem­brances we will likely hear more from folks who cling to the white­wash ex­pla­na­tion for se­ces­sion and the Civil War. But you have only to look at the hon­est words of the se­ces­sion­ists to see why all those men put on uni­forms.

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